Scientists from all over the world have issued a call for a global moratorium against gene editing designed to modify inheritable traits in humans babies.
The call for a moratorium was in direct response to the controversial experiment conducted by He Jiankui. The Chinese scientist admitted in November that he used CRISPR to modify the genes of twin girls in China to protect them from becoming infected with the HIV virus in the future.
The 18 signatories, each has been involved in the study or application of gene editing, are hoping for the total ban on editing the human germline — sperm, eggs, and embryos — until an international framework has been agreed upon.
“To begin with, there should be a fixed period during which no clinical uses of germline editing whatsoever are allowed,” the open letter read. “As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework.”
The call for a moratorium, published on Wednesday, March 13, on the journal Nature, include Feng Zhang and Emmanuelle Charpentier, two of the primary inventors of the CRISPR system.
The effort was supported by the National Institute of Health’s Francis Collins. In an interview with The Washington Post, he stated that the U.S. government shares the same sentiment.
“What we’re talking about here is one of the most fundamental moments of decision about the application of science to something of enormous societal consequence,” he stated. “Are we going to cross the line toward redesigning ourselves?”
However, one name is noticeably missing from the signatories: Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley. She is a gene-editing pioneer whose work led to the development of CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology.
Doudna has been outspoken about the dangers of gene-editing. In 2015, she and a group of biologists called for a similar moratorium on gene editing only to be ignored by He.
She said that she will continue working with national academies in the United States and the United Kingdom to introduce regulations that will ban the modification of genes to give a baby inheritable traits until scientific, technical, and ethical issues have been discussed and addressed.