Japan has banned gene-edited human embryos and international scientists are increasing the call to ban the highly uncertain and risky practice of gene-editing of human DNA. The growing opposition comes as details of a Chinese biologist’s attempt to gene-edit embryos to resist HIV led to massive criticism of the flawed experiment. While the technology of altering DNA of humans, plants, animals is still in its infancy, the rate at which it is spreading worldwide with little oversight gives cause for alarm.
In December, 2019 the Japanese Health Ministry recommended a ban on implanting genetically modified human embryos. They warned such procedures could lead to a market for ‘designer babies.’ They follow recommendations of a panel of experts who warned that allowing gene-edited human embryos to be placed in the uterus for gestation held very serious health risks for both the infant and for future generations. In 2018 the Japanese government had moved to permit gene-editing of human embryos.
The latest decision by Japan to call for a ban on using the gene-edited embryos to give birth to gene-altered babies is a clear reaction to worldwide protest against a Chinese biologist who reported he had gene edited twins to be immune to HIV. It was the first report of babies born who had been genetically edited with CRISPR. Since then a growing number of scientists have called for a moratorium on gene editing of humans. Feng Zhang, a member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the co-inventor of CRISPR/Cas9, has called for a moratorium on gene-edited babies. Nobel laureate David Baltimore said the He human experiment showed “there has been a failure of self-regulation in the scientific community.”
Human gene experiments
Last December, a full year after proclaiming their success in creating the first gene edited twins who were HIV resistant, Chinese biologist He Jiankui, professor at Southern University of Science and Technology, agreed to release the full details of his human gene editing experiment. The MIT Technology Review has now published extensive excerpts from the He document. In November, 2018 He claimed a major first: to have used the gene editing technology CRISPR to change the DNA of human embryos during in vitro fertilization using CRISPR gene editing technology.