WASHINGTON, D.C.—A 2-day National Academy of Sciences (NAS) workshop here last week exposed just how far scientists, ethicists, and regulators are from agreeing on the best way to move forward with genome editing in animals. Following on the heels of this month’s NAS summit on genome editing in humans, the workshop attracted much less attention, even though the work has more immediate regulatory and scientific implications. It also has the potential to shape how these technologies may one day be used in humans.
In one sense, gene editing has been going on for nearly 10,000 years. The selective breeding of livestock leads to changes in a breed’s genetic makeup similar to what can be done with modern techniques. The big difference, say genome-editing advocates, is that these new molecular tools make the process much more efficient, with precise ways of deleting, inserting, or regulating genes. One approach, called CRISPR, has made gene editing so easy that in little more than 2 years, researchers have used it to change the genomes of more than a dozen plants and animals. With CRISPR, researchers have modified or disabled multiple genes at once, in some cases leaving no trace of the foreign DNA that makes it possible.