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Gene editing raises host of possibilities

Study leader Shoukhrat Mitalipov explains how his team edited the DNA of a human embryo to fix a mutant gene that causes an inherited heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

There’s another half to the recent article, “U.S. scientists try gene editing inside a person for first time, aiming to cure a disease” (Nov. 15), which rightly points to currently promising prospects for gene editing.

As the science matures longer term, gene editing with tools like CRISPR and, crucially, follow-on technologies won’t be limited just to preventing or fixing health disorders. Controlling for a baby’s traits (“designer babies”) — a choice made freely — will likely be humankind’s future, encompassing an expanding range of cognitive and physical qualities.

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That doesn’t mean cookie-cutter sameness in the human population; there’ll be variety. Such capabilities might seem forbidding, spurring welcome caution. But history is replete with developments in science and technology that went from alarming to routine.

Mother Nature allows us to improve the cards she dealt us; humankind is curious and visionary. Parents, wanting to advantage their children, have routinely done so through various other types of interventions — medical, behavioral, lifestyle. Access to gene editing will, in turn, become increasingly affordable and thus democratizing.

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No one wants a Wild West of gene editing. Ethicists, policymakers, scientists, and the public will need to debate regulations — and rights and obligations — as part of deliberative family planning and the advancing science.

Keith Tidman, Bethesda

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