For thousands of years, the world has been plagued with disease, but what if it were possible to eradicate disease through the process of gene editing? Something of this nature could conceivably rid the world of disease, however, there are ethical and other issues to take into consideration. A relatively new, cheap and fast way to manipulate DNA has scientists and governments looking to lay down some laws and guidelines for how CRISPR is used.

Attendees of a three-day gene editing summit in Washington DC began this discussion on Tuesday, and will debate and look at subjects like designer babies, ethics questions, and other matters regarding the CRISPR technology.

The summit is jointly sponsored by Britain’s Royal Society, as well as the US National Academies and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The technology could be used to eliminate disease, including inherited disease.

CRISPR gene editing method already used in studies

CRISPRs are clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, segments of DNA strands that contain short repetitions of base sequences that are followed by a spacer DNA. This system is used for gene editing, which means the adding, changing or somehow interrupting the sequence of certain kinds of genes.

The idea of gene splicing first began during the 1970s, as it started to become a real Science. Some at the time worried that this would bring huge changes for the world as we know it, such as creating designer babies. This has not come about, but the science is being used in genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, like creating crops that are resistant to pesticides

Ability to create designer babies could now be possible

Now it is 40 years in the future, and it is actually possible that by using the CRISPR method, scientists could make a designer baby using gene engineering and replacing parts of the child’s DNA in reproductive cells.

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This could not only create designer children but could also change how organisms pass down genes in the future. The reason CRISPR is so provocative is that it can be used on what is called "germline" cells, like sperm, eggs and embryonic cells, and these manipulations cause the results to be inheritable in future offspring.

Thereby, there are ethical challenges that must be addressed at the summit, and some nations have already taken it upon themselves to forbid creating designer children. It is expected that this type of feeling against such modifications is likely to keep happening, say scientists and others. It is something that will continue to affect the biotech industry in many areas to come.

In search of ways to control this technology this week hundreds of researchers, policy makers, and even the president’s science advisor will be on hand in Washington DC to talk about gene editing at this historic three-day gene summit event.