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Genetic manipulation has been a dream to some and a nightmare to others. But the days of inserting, cutting, and swapping out DNA always seemed a bit farther off. Until now. CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows users to quickly and cheaply edit, delete or replace any gene, and is already being used in hundreds of labs.
This has many people wondering if designer babies are right around the corner, and whether manipulating human genes is legal.
Building a Better Baby
Thus far, researchers have already used CRISPR to create malaria-resistant mosquitoes, miniature muscle-bound pigs, and and cancer cells that don't multiply. But when Chinese scientists announced they used the technology to edit genetic material in human embryos, the world got curious about its application to engineer children.
Professor of bioethics and Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University Dr. Paul Root Wolpe told Huffington Post, "Right now, the use that is being contemplated is to correct disease mutations and prevent birth defects, not to create designer babies." He added that "our understanding of the genetics of complex traits like intelligence, or musical ability, or athleticism is still rudimentary, and no one would know how to create a more intelligent child, for example."
Genetic Codes and the U.S. Code
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Federal Trade Commission regulate genetic testing and research in the United States. But there are no laws expressly forbidding genetic manipulation in humans.
But those laws could be on the way, according to Dr. Wolpe: "We should clearly make it against the law in the U.S. to use CRISPR or any other tool of genetic engineering to alter the human germline at this point. I believe that there will come a time in the future when the benefits of such interventions may outweigh the risks, but we are not near that point now."
Until then, scientists will regulate themselves, and the ones that created CRISPR will battle over the patent in court.