Word from the United Kingdom is that doctors will soon begin researching the effects of gene modification in embryos in clinical settings. It was hard to read the headlines without experiencing a visceral concern that this could only lead to the rise of genetically superior homo sapiens destined to destroy the human race… but maybe that’s because I’ve seen one too many movies with just this subplot.
In actuality, Dr. Kathy Niakan will soon begin her research at the Francis Crick Institute in London. The hope is that researching the effects of DNA modification in embryos in the first seven days after fertilization will illuminate some of the oldest questions we have about viable pregnancies, namely: Why do some work and others fail? According to the BBC, statistically only about 13 percent of fertilized embryos survive the early stages of development to fully implant and grow to full term fetuses ready to be born. That leaves a huge percentage of potential life that simply disappears.
Niakan has spent more than a decade researching human development, and it is only with very careful consideration on the part of the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority that she will be able to pursue this new research. Critics and supporters alike will be carefully watching to see what can be discovered in these brief moments of great productivity on the part of DNA that happen at the very beginning of life. On the one hand, this could lead to a decrease in infertility. On the other, it could jump start a new industry around “designer” babies.
Here’s a great simple explainer on gene modification in case you’re not quite sure how, exactly, something as small as DNA can be changed for your advantage:
In case you were wondering, this does not mean that genetically modified babies will be hitting the cribs of the UK anytime soon. Right now, this is all simply research. The fertilized embryos that Niakan works with will be destroyed after 7 days and will never be implanted in human women. Rest assured, we still have time to prepare for the uprising of perfect people.
If you could modify one part of yourself, what would it be? Tell us in the comments below!