Scientists cure diseases before birth

Power up: Around one third of Americans are in favour of enhancing genes to improve our abilities.

Scientists have used an amazing new technology to edit the genes of a human embryo and cure it of a rare disease. But what if they learned to tweak our genes to make us faster or smarter?

What’s happening

Our genes make us who we are. They are like a recipe for our bodies. But sometimes a small fault in our genes can cause us to be born with a disease. Now, scientists have learned to repair one of these faults by “editing” the genes of an embryo — a group of cells that could grow into a baby.

Find out more

Our genes are made from DNA, which is made from four different “bases”. These are represented by the letters A, C, T and G. The order of these bases is known as our genetic code. If one letter is wrong, it could cause a disease like beta-thalassemia.

That is what had happened to the genetic code of some embryos in a Chinese lab. Then, scientists used a new technology to change a faulty G to an A, and the disease was cured.

It is the first time this has been done successfully and it is a big breakthrough in the race to cure genetic diseases.

But the technology could be used for other things. If scientists learned how, they could “edit” an embryo’s DNA to make someone look a certain way, or to be better at sports or exams. Is this a good idea?

Some say…

Of course it is! Why stop at curing diseases? We all wish we could be better at some things. If scientists can improve our genes before we are born and make us naturally good at those things, we could end up living happier lives. Or perhaps we could use our skills to make the world a better place. Let’s hope scientists learn how to do it soon.

Others think…

Slow down. Unlike the disease in this experiment, things like intelligence or strength do not rely on a single letter of genetic code. They are much more complicated, and so much harder to edit. That means it is much more dangerous to try. Anyway, we should not meddle with nature — we should be happy with ourselves, and each other, the way we are.

You Decide

  1. Should scientists improve people’s abilities through their genes?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are one of the first children whose genes were “enhanced” by scientists. Write a short story explaining what that would feel like.

Some People Say...

“Gene editing should be banned before it goes too far.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Genes
Each of us has around 20,000 to 25,000 genes. We inherit them from our parents. Although most of our genes are the same as everyone else’s, the small differences make us unique.
Embryo
A group of cells at the beginning of a pregnancy. Given time, they will grow into a baby.
DNA
Short for deoxyribonucleic acid.
Bases
We each have are around three billion DNA bases.
Genetic code
The sequence of bases that make our DNA.
Beta-thalassemia
A rare blood disorder.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.