Leading scientists called for a public debate today over whether they should get new powers to modify the DNA of human embryos to fight disease.
Critics warned that any relaxation of current laws about genetically modifying embryos will lead to the ‘creation of enhanced GM babies’.
Five leading research bodies said ‘game changing’ new techniques have potential to conquer a range of genetic diseases.
But they say the public must discuss whether they want to allow scientists to explore new research techniques.
At present human embryos in the UK can only be modified for research purposes and must be destroyed after 14 days.
Clinical or therapeutic uses – transplanting them into living humans – or allowing the embryos to develop into human babies is banned.
The fear of allowing babies to be born that have been genetically modified is that any unwanted ‘errors’ in the DNA will get passed into the human gene pool.
This could potentially create new forms of inherited illness or disabilities as well as ‘designer babies’ whose DNA has been edited to suit their parents’ whims.
Earlier this year GM experiments on 86 embryos in China created controversy as the technique resulted in numerous mutations that were not intended by the scientists.
Regulations in the US – led by the National Institute of Health (NIH) – are far stricter forbidding any GM editing of embryos.