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A Science of Human Nature?

Philosophical Disputes at the Interface of Natural and Social Science

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Crossing the Germline; Or, Genome Editing meets Town Planning

last modified Oct 28, 2015 01:41 PM

Crossing the Germline: Or, Genome Editing meets Town Planning

Tim Lewens has written a piece about the human germline on the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) blog. Lewens opens with the following:

Earlier this month UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee issued a new statement, updating its thinking on the human genome and human rights. The statement included a discussion of the ethics of genome editing: a topic that has been discussed with great frequency by distinguished groups of scientists, science funders, ethical advisory bodies and science journalists over the past year or two.

A new suite of technologies has been developed—the one most often mentioned uses the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system, but there are others—that give scientists the power to modify genomes in plants, animals and humans with far greater precision than ever before. Genome editing has many applications, especially in basic research. For example, a good way to understand the function of a gene in a mouse is to see how the mouse develops if the gene in question is replaced. These editing techniques can also help in the breeding of new varieties of plant, perhaps with commercial value. But for many commentators—and the UNESCO statement is no exception—it is the prospect that genome editing might eventually modify the human germline that makes these technologies so intriguing, and so contentious.

The full blog post can be read here.