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Designer babies: Sweden one step closer to engineering custom-made humans

Genetic alteration

(NaturalNews) A medical researcher in Sweden has begun attempting to edit the genes of developing human embryos – a move which could lead to the eventual engineering of "designer babies," and one which is likely to stir serious debate regarding the ethics and safety of such experimentation.

Fredrik Lanner at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm is the first known scientist to break what has long been considered a taboo – the genetic manipulation of healthy human embryos.

His work is almost certain to raise the ire of those who already oppose any human embryonic stem cell research, but it will also likely provoke questions among the less ethically-concerned about whether this new research will eventually be used on embryos implanted in the womb.

Lanner said that his research is only aimed at learning more about how genes "regulate early embryonic development," according to National Public Radio.

From NPR:

"He hopes the work could lead to new ways to treat infertility and prevent miscarriages. He also hopes to help scientists learn more about embryonic stem cells so they can someday use them to treat many diseases.

"The fear is that Lanner's work could open the door to others attempting to use genetically modified embryos to make babies."

The potential dangers of altering embryonic DNA

That fear may well be justified, and not just from an ethical point of view:

"Making changes to the DNA in human embryos could accidentally introduce an error into the human gene pool, inadvertently creating a new disease that would be passed down for generations, critics say.

"Some also worry the experiments could open the door to so-called designer babies that would let parents pick and choose the traits of their children."

If such methods are developed and used on viable embryos that could be implanted into a mother's womb, parents could potentially select such traits as intelligence or desirable physical attributes.

Even scientists who see the benefit of Lanner's research acknowledge that it may represent a "slippery slope" scenario that may encourage others to go one step further and use these sophisticated gene-editing techniques to make custom babies.

Although Lanner says that he will only study the embryos during the first seven days of their growth and will not let them develop past 14 days, it's not hard to imagine that others will soon take similar research to its logical conclusion.

Currently, it is legal to conduct embryonic research in many U.S. states, but it is illegal to gestate an embryo which has been genetically-altered.

But eventually, with enough proof that such editing could be considered viable and beneficial – such as in the case of being able to alter genes that might otherwise cause a child to be born with a predisposition to certain inheritable diseases – it's not outside the realm of possibility that it could someday be made legal in the U.S. and/or elsewhere.

Just a matter of time?

Although research on DNA-editing of healthy human embryos is still controversial and in the early stages, the work of Lanner and others may make it seem increasingly acceptable. And if it proves to be viable, there is little doubt that someone, somewhere, will eventually try to make genetically altered babies.

As we've seen with the rapid and widespread development of GM agriculture, once a technology is developed and proven to work – no matter how potentially dangerous – there is seemingly no way to stop it from being put to use, especially if there is money to be made from it.

I hate to be too cynical, but I have a feeling that it won't be long at all before the first genetically-altered "designer baby" is born.

And as far as I'm concerned, once that happens, all bets are off. ...





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