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Ethicists open to one day altering heredity to fight disease

Posted at 8:36 AM, Feb 16, 2017

 Altering human heredity sounds sci-fi, but a major new ethics report is leaving open the possibility that one day scientists might try that to fight some serious genetic diseases.

Powerful technology is allowing scientists to precisely edit genes inside living cells in the quest for new therapies. The National Academy of Sciences says the science isn't ready for a huge next step — altering sperm, eggs or embryos so that babies don't inherit a disease that runs in the family.

But if scientists learn how to safely try, Tuesday's report set strict criteria. Such experiments would have to target a serious disease with no reasonable alternative and be conducted under rigorous oversight.

Panel co-chair R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says the approach is caution, not prohibition.