Washington Post It's so revolutionary — and unnerving — that hundreds of scientists, policymakers and the president's science adviser gathered Tuesday in Washington for the start of a three-day summit on the implications of this astonishing technology. By Joel Achenbach
'Developed only in the past four years, the CRISPR technique exploits a natural process used by ordinary bacteria to defend against invasive viruses. It enables rank-and-file scientists — just about anyone with a modern laboratory and the right skills — to alter specific genes within plants and animals and make those changes heritable. This kind of gene editing could potentially be used in gene therapies targeting a variety of devastating, heritable diseases.
'But many researchers argue that it is too soon, and potentially too dangerous, to tinker with the human genome in a way that is passed down to future generations. One objection is simply pragmatic: Biological systems are extremely complex, and changing human genes could have unintended and undesirable consequences. And many bioethicists are not comfortable with the prospect that gene editing could be used for purely cosmetic enhancements, or in an attempt to give certain people physical and intellectual advantages.
'“The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance," summit chair David Baltimore of Caltech said in his introductory remarks.'