A breakthrough gene-editing process developed in 2012 could potentially be used to eradicate genetic diseases in humans—or make a person more intelligent or attractive. The Crispr-Cas9 or "DNA scissors" technique involves making DNA-altering changes to sperm, eggs, or embryos that could then be inherited by future generations. For example, negative mutations could be replaced with "corrected" DNA strings, Bloomberg reports. The technique is relatively easy for anyone who knows about molecular biology, and it's already been tested in mice, rats, and monkeys, the New York Times reports. But a group of 18 biologists, including a Crispr-Cas9 inventor, cautions the dangers of genome-editing in a new study and warns "scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germline genome modification for clinical application in humans" until the consequences "are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations."
In a similar essay last week, several scientists called for a moratorium on gene-editing research that "could be exploited," as "an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development." Scientists around the world won't be forced to abide by the request, but the biologists hope to use their "moral authority" to bar experiments in parts of the world where lab research isn't well regulated. Similar requests have been agreed to in the past; however, scientists tell Nature that research papers about created human embryos with edited genomes have already been submitted for publication. Ethicists say editing human DNA to boost intelligence or beauty should never be attempted, but there are also potential dangers as the process can change genes apart from the ones intended. "You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue," an expert says. (Britain is the first nation that will allow three-parent babies.)