Genetic modification of human embryos is “essential” and should be allowed so scientists can better understand basic biology, according to a new report.
The Hinxton Group, a worldwide network of science and ethics experts, says gene editing of early stage embryos would be of “tremendous value” to scientific research and could have practical applications.
But the group, which met in Manchester this month, added that the technology was not yet advanced enough to be used in the reproduction process.
The report acknowledged some may find the notion of genetically modified babies “morally troubling”.
Sarah Chan, a leading member and an academic at the University of Edinburgh, said preventing research in the area would be dangerous.
“The prospect that genome editing may one day be used to create genetically modified humans should not in itself be cause for concern, particularly where what is at stake is curing or preventing serious disease.
“At the same time, more research is needed, together with robust public discussion, before genome editing could proceed to reproductive clinical applications.”
Earlier this year, Chinese scientists used a molecular cut-and-paste technique to edit a problem gene that causes a potentially fatal inherited blood disorder. But the move was met with calls for a worldwide ban on the creation of “designer babies”.
A statement backed by the group’s 22 members said: “We believe that while this technology has tremendous value to basic research and enormous potential for somatic clinical uses, it is not sufficiently developed to consider human genome editing for clinical reproductive purposes at this time.
“Given all safety, efficacy and governance needs are met, there may be morally acceptable uses of this technology in human reproduction, though further substantial discussion and debate will be required.”
But the notion has met with doubt among other scientists.
Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of those behind the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 DNA editing technique, told the BBC: “Personally, I don’t think it is acceptable to manipulate the human germline for the purpose of changing some genetic traits that will be transmitted over generations.
“I just have a problem right now with regard to the manipulation of the human germlines.”