Re-Engineering Human Embryos

Download Audio

Chinese scientists re-engineer human embryo genes, and set off a global moral debate. We’ll dig in.

A landmark new research study from Chinese scientists is one of the first to edit the genomes of human embryos. (Dr. Yorgos Nikas/  SPL)
A landmark new research study from Chinese scientists is one of the first to edit the genomes of human embryos. (Dr. Yorgos Nikas/ SPL)

New report out of China, with potential implications for the rest of human history. Human nature. Chinese scientists have used a new technique to “edit” the genes of human embryos. To snip and change the code. The recipe for human life itself. What gets inherited. They’re not perfect editors yet. But if and when they get it down, those edits will re-engineer human life. Maybe against disease. And for all kinds of traits. They’re searching for “genius genes.” Stronger. Faster. This hour on On Point: re-engineering human embryo genes. The implications, and the global moral debate.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Carl Zimmer, science writer and columnist at the New York Times. Author of the books "Soul Made Flesh," "Evolution" and "At The Water's Edge," among many others. (@carlzimmer)

Craig Mello, Nobel Prize-winning professor of molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.

From Tom’s Reading List

Nature: Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos — "Some say that gene editing in embryos could have a bright future because it could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born. Others say that such work crosses an ethical line:researchers warned in Nature in March that because the genetic changes to embryos, known as germline modification, are heritable, they could have an unpredictable effect on future generations."

National Geographic: Editing Human Embryos: So This Happened -- "Gene therapy research crashed around 2000 when one volunteer died during a study due to an overwhelming immune response to the viruses he received. Since then, gene therapy researchers have found safer, more efficient viruses, and now gene therapy is starting to emerge in the clinic. But the revival of gene therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that viruses are the best of all possible tools to fix broken genes. What if, for example, you could just remove the mutant DNA in a gene and replace it with the right sequence?"

New York Times: Chinese Scientists Edit Genes of Human Embryos, Raising Concerns -- "Chinese researchers did not plan to produce a baby — they used defective human embryos — but did hope to end up with an embryo with a precisely altered gene in every cell but no other inadvertent DNA damage. None of the 85 human embryos they injected fulfilled those criteria. In almost every case, either the embryo died or the gene was not altered."

This program aired on April 28, 2015.



More from On Point

Listen Live