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New Techniques, New Talks

Tony Perry from the University of Bath tells the BBC that his recent work performing genome editing at the time of conception in mice means that the idea of 'designer babies' is moving closer to reality and that discussions about the process need to be held.

Perry and his colleagues recently said in Scientific Reports that they were able to use Cas9 cRNA and gRNA to edit the mouse genome during the very early stages of development — paternal genes underwent editing within some three hours of sperm injection and maternal genes were edited after the first round of DNA replication.

This and other CRISPR-Cas9 advances have "reopened questions about genetically modifying people," the BBC says. Parents, for instance, could avoid passing on certain disease genes to their children.

And Perry says the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility treatment and research in the UK, has to be ready. In the UK, the BBC notes, germ-line therapies are not allowed.

"I think it's pretty inevitable that we'll get to a point where it's scientifically possible, certainly these new techniques of genome editing have made something look much more feasible than it did five years ago," David King from Human Genetics Alert says. "But that does not mean to say it's inevitably the way we have to go as a society."

The BBC adds that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is thought to be preparing a report on the matter, and a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority spokesperson says the agency is keeping a "watchful eye on scientific developments of this kind and welcome discussions about future possible developments."