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Experts call for halt to gene editing that results in ‘designer babies’

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Top scientists and ethicists from seven countries on Wednesday called for a global moratorium on gene editing of human eggs, sperm or embryos that would result in genetically-altered babies after a rogue Chinese researcher last year announced the birth of the world’s first gene-edited twins.

News of their birth prompted global condemnation of the work, raising the ethical specter of so-called designer babies in which embryos could be genetically modified to produce children with desirable traits.

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The scientists and ethicists want to halt genetic alterations of “germline cells” – egg or sperm cells – that can then be inherited by others and “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

The global moratorium would be in place until nations can devise international principles to guide how the technology should be used, the experts wrote in the journal Nature. It would not cover gene editing done in embryos for research purposes that would not lead to a live birth.

Top scientists and ethicists from seven countries on Wednesday called for a global moratorium on gene editing of human eggs, sperm or embryos that would result in genetically-altered babies after a rogue Chinese researcher last year announced the birth of the world’s first gene-edited twins.

News of their birth prompted global condemnation of the work, raising the ethical specter of so-called designer babies in which embryos could be genetically modified to produce children with desirable traits.

ADVERTISEMENT

The scientists and ethicists want to halt genetic alterations of “germline cells” – egg or sperm cells – that can then be inherited by others and “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

The global moratorium would be in place until nations can devise international principles to guide how the technology should be used, the experts wrote in the journal Nature. It would not cover gene editing done in embryos for research purposes that would not lead to a live birth.

“The governance framework we are calling for will place major speed bumps in front of the most adventurous plans to re-engineer the human species,” the experts said in a commentary in the Nature. “The introduction of genetic modifications into future generations could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species,” they wrote.

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Such work differs from research being conducted by numerous drug companies and scientists into gene therapies based on editing so-called somatic cells that affect an individual’s health by correcting a disease or condition but would not be passed on to offspring.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said in a letter to the journal that the “NIH strongly agrees” that a ban on the practice should go into immediate effect and stay in place until nations can commit to international rules to determine “whether and under what conditions such research should ever proceed.”

“There is no doubt that genome editing technologies hold huge potential,” Collins said, but added that there are too many scientific and ethical questions that need to be answered.

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Some scientists called the proposed ban unnecessary, saying it would not prevent a scientist bent on using the technology from editing DNA in embryos to prevent disease or enhance traits of a child, as was the case with Chinese researcher He Jiankui.

“We do not think a moratorium would have deterred He Jiankui, who acted secretively and in breach of a clear scientific consensus that germline genome editing should not be used in the clinic at this time,” Sarah Norcross, director of Britain-based Progress Educational Trust, said in a statement.

Helen O’Neill, program director for Reproductive Science and Women’s Health at University College London, said the proposal ignores the fact that a global ban already exists.

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O’Neill said there were legal and ethical measures in place in China and that He broke many of these rules. “It was not that he did this because the law allowed it.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; editing by Bill Berkrot)


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Betsy DeVos’ DOE threatens to cut university funding for positive portrayal of Islam

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The U.S Department of Education threatened to pull federal funding from a Middle East studies course jointly run by Duke University and the University of North Carolina because it portrays Islam too positively.

The DOE ordered the universities to change their program or lose its federal grant money. In a letter to UNC, the department criticized the program, arguing that topics like Iranian art and film have “little or no relevance” to the Middle East studies program. The letter also argues that the program “appears to lack balance” because its programs are not focused on the discrimination faced by “religious minorities in the Middle East," including Christians and Jews.

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Wall Street is ignoring the omens of recession — here’s why

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The Federal Reserve seems a lot more concerned about the state of the economy than it’s been letting on.

The Fed lowered its target interest rate by a quarter point on Sept. 18, the second such cut since July – and the first reductions since the Great Recession more than 10 years ago.

Judging by the words of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this isn’t that big a deal. In his statement following the decision, he said: “We took this step to help keep the U.S. economy strong in the face of some notable developments and to provide insurance against ongoing risks.”

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2020 Election

Elizabeth Warren accuses Congress of complicity in Trump’s continued abuses

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused the U.S. Congress of complicity in President Donald Trump's continued abuse of power late Friday, after reports surfaced of his alleged attempts to solicit foreign meddling in the 2020 presidential election, and reiterated her demand that Democrats use their majority in the House to pursue impeachment.

Warren's tweeted statement came hours after the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's opposition to a Ukrainian prosecutor in 2016.

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