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Gene Editing Conference to Kick Off

An international summit on gene editing is set to kick off tomorrow in Washington, DC, Stat News reports.

The gathering, hosted by the US National Academy of Sciences, is to discuss the scientific, ethical, legal, and political issues associated with human gene editing, especially CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. Both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the UK's Royal Society have said they will be in attendance.

The summit comes in the wake of rapid advances in gene editing, particularly the use of CRISPR-Cas9. For instance, a team of researchers at SunYat-sen University reported last spring that they'd used CRISPR-Cas9 to modify non-viable human embryos. That report highlighted the need to hash out the approach's ramifications and establish standards and guidelines.

Among the expected speakers are White House science adviser John Holdren, the University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna, Broad Institute's Feng Zhang, Harvard University's George Church, and Eric Lander from the Broad, Stat News notes.

As GenomeWeb reports today, Doudna and Church have argued in separate Nature pieces against a total ban on CRISPR-Cas9 and instead have called for regulation of the method.

"I think [the meeting is] this generation's version of Asilomar," Doudna tells the Guardian, referring to the 1975 meeting on recombinant DNA. "It's a very exciting time, but as with any powerful technology, there is always the risk that something will be done either intentionally or unintentionally that somehow has ill effects."