Shining glowing people

2 minute read

Sarah-Kate Templeton of the London Times has reported that a Cornell University group created a genetically-modified human embryo:

The Cornell team, led by Nikica Zaninovic, used a virus to add a gene, a green fluorescent protein, to an embryo left over from in vitro fertilisation.
The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine last year but details have emerged only after the HFEA highlighted the work in a review of the technology.
Zaninovic pointed out that in order to be sure that the new gene had been inserted and the embryo had been genetically modified, scientists would ideally need to grow the embryo and carry out further tests.
The Cornell team did not have permission to allow the embryo to progress, however.

Another article about the work appears in the New York Times by writer Andrew Pollack:

But the researchers, at Cornell University, say they used an abnormal embryo that could never have turned into a baby.
"This particular piece of work was done on an embryo that was never going to be viable," said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. He said the purpose of the work was stem cell research.
That did not stop some from criticizing the work, saying that the techniques being developed could be used by others to create babies with genes modified to make them smarter, taller, more athletic or better looking. They also said there should have been more public discussion.
"It's an important ethical boundary that scientists have been observing," said Marcy Darnovsky, associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a watchdog group in Oakland, Calif. "These scientists, on their own, decided to step over that boundary with no public discussion."

I don't really have any comments, but I wanted to point to these stories because I've been teaching a class that addresses these issues. Also, it strikes me that the opposition is poorly stated -- expressing an aversion to "smarter, taller, more athletic or better looking" children doesn't make much sense on its face.

One possible interpretation, that people may be forced to use such technologies if they want their children to remain competitive (the "private school" problem) won't carry much weight with most people, who don't feel such pressure now despite the many ways that people may invest in their children. Another, that such technologies may have "unforeseen side effects" (that is, the Frankenstein problem) doesn't argue against the technologies in general, it merely suggests an appropriate amount of caution.

Anyway, this discussion demands a longer post, and I just wanted to point to these articles.