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We should not fear "editing" embryos to improve human intelligence, says leading geneticist George Church



OSome of the world's leading geneticists say it will only be a matter of time before the genes of human embryos are "edited" to improve their health and intelligence – and that is something we should embrace rather than fear.

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said that the current controversy over the editing of human embryos was overwhelmed and compared it to the short-lived moral panic that preceded the introduction of IVF or "test tube baby" in the late 1970s.

Interviewed for a feature in this week's Telegraph Magazine Church, which made its name part of the international team that first mapped the human genome in 2003, said he was less concerned about gene editing used to improve human intelligence than technology is limited to a privileged few. He predicted that it would eventually "be adopted worldwide".

"I just don't believe the blue eyes and [an extra] 15 IQ points are really a threat to public health, "he said," I don't think it's a threat to our morals. "

In November, a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, shocked the world by announcing that he had used CRISPR-Cas9, a genetic editing tool. The Church helped the pioneer deactivate a gene called CCR5 in the embryos of twin girls to render them resistant to HIV.

The move was condemned as "monstrous" by scientists worldwide, as it broke a long-standing scientific taboo – using an ignorant technique to deal with an already-treated disease.

But while others expressed rebellion, the Church was incomparable and told the magazine Science: "As long as it is normal, healthy children, it will be good for the field and the family."

In his interview with telegraph, The Church went on and compared the reaction with Jiankui's announcement with the fear surrounding the first use of IVF.

"For a while it appeared that In Vitro Fertilization would be something that was not used, for everyone said" test tube babies! "It's very scary," he said. "Then a healthy baby later, Louise Brown in 1978, and suddenly it's OK."


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