A multi-celled human embryo

Genetically Modified Embryos Raise Concerns

May 14, 2008 10:12 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Scientists announce they have genetically altered a human embryo for the first time, prompting worry that “designer babies” with preselected traits could be next.

30-Second Summary

The genetic research focused on stem cells and used an abnormal embryo unable to develop into a baby, says Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Using techniques developed in animal research, the scientists inserted a gene that acts as a marker into the embryo cells, tracing whether the embryo’s stem cells later contained the marker gene. Such work could help shed light on why abnormal embryos fail to develop, Rosenwaks told Newsweek.

But the methods used in the Weill Cornell study could lead to genetically modified people, cautions Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society. Critics worry that future scientists will produce babies with hand-picked traits such as intelligence or athletic ability, creating a society where some are considered genetically inferior.

Rosenwaks doubts the validity of such fears. “None of us wants to make designer babies,” he said.

Still, Richard Hayes, the executive director of the Center, says that new human genetic technologies may have potential to cure diseases, but they could also do serious harm. “If misapplied, they would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination,” Hayes wrote in The Washington Post.  “If more widely abused, they could undermine the foundations of civil and human rights.”

As genetic research techniques move forward, the government is starting to take precautions. In April, the Senate passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which would bar employers and health insurers from using information about a person’s genes to penalize them.

Headline Link: ‘Genetically modified human embryo stirs criticism’

Related Topics: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, stem cells turned into heart cells

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Genetically Modified Human? No Thanks’

Reference: Genetics & Public Policy Center, the National Human Genome Research Institute


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