The Gene Editing Debate Is on, Compliments of CRISPR

HowStuffWorks NOW: Gene Editing: Determining Our Biological Future HowStuffWorks

As we describe in this video, gene editing, known as CRISPR, or clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, has made some serious strides. So serious that a historical summit is being held, and its co-developer, Dr. Jennifer Douda, is asking everyone to put the kibosh on gene editing until they've had a chance to have a good, long chat about the ethics surrounding it.

That's because in addition to the amazing, revolutionary ability to snip out disease from the genetic code (think Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis and potentially cancer), the CRISPR technology would allow for tinkering with genes at the embryonic stage. 

But before you go down the road of designer babies and gene patenting, it's worth pointing out that genome editing is hardly new. Scientists have been tinkering with it since the '70s, as well as grappling with the ethics surrounding it.

Consider something called “three-person IVF” — sperm from one male and eggs from two women — which allows the mitochondrial DNA of one egg to be replaced with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, thereby editing out mitochondrial diseases of the biological egg but keeping much of the DNA from the original egg.

This technique has been around for decades but only now, and in the United Kingdom, has it been approved for couples who are both high-risk carriers of a mitochondrial disease that they might otherwise pass onto their children.

If you haven't already, find out more about why this gene-editing technology is a game-changer just by watching the video above.