British scientists are asking permission to genetically modify human embryos, sparking controversy over so-called "designer babies" made in the lab.
A team at the Francis Crick Institute in London, led by Dr. Kathy Niakan, a stem cell specialist, has asked the U.K. Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority for permission to use a new technique, CRISPR/Cas9, to manipulate the genetic code of embryonic DNA.
While some researchers believe the procedure could be used to correct genetic defects or immunize against disease, many critics are concerned it may be a gateway to "designer babies" - where a child's DNA is altered due to the parents' desired traits.
Earlier this year, Chinese scientists revealed they had performed the innovative genome manipulation technique on human IVF embryos. Their results, published in the online journal Protein & Cell, has sparked heated debate in the scientific community.
In asking for approval from the UK regulatory board, Dr. Niakan said that the research could determine the causes behind early miscarriage. The research would center upon the very early stages of egg fertilization.
"It is not a slippery slope because the UK has very tight regulation in this area," she told The Guardian.
“However, it is up to society to decide what is acceptable: science will merely inform what may be possible.”
The review board has yet to approve the Crick team application, but is expected to grant a license provided that the experiments are destroyed within 14 days.