Rapid progress in genetics is making “designer babies” more likely and society needs to be prepared, leading scientists have told the BBC. Dr Tony Perry, a pioneer in cloning, has announced precise DNA editing at the moment of conception in mice. In the journal Scientific Reports, he details precisely editing the genome of mice at the point DNA from the sperm and egg come together. Dr Perry, who is based at the University of Bath, told the BBC: “We used a pair of molecular scissors and a molecular sat-nav that tells the scissors where to cut. It is approaching 100% efficiency already, it’s a case of ‘you shoot you score’.”
This has reopened questions about genetically modifying people. Prof Perry added: “On the human side, one has to be very cautious. There are heritable diseases coded by mutations in DNA and some people could say, ‘I don’t want my children to have these mutations.'” This includes conditions such as cystic fibrosis and genes that increase the risk of cancer. Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the UK Medical Research Council, has been influential in the debate around making babies from three people and uses the Crispr technology in his own lab. He said testing embryos for disease during IVF would be the best way of preventing diseases being passed down through the generations. It would also be useful in circumstances when all embryos would carry the undesirable, risky genes.
Prof Lovell-Badge told the BBC News website: “Obviously in the UK, this is not allowed and there would have to be a change in regulations, which I suspect would have enormous problems. But it is something that needs to start to be debated.”