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Sci Eng Ethics. 2018 Aug;24(4):1077-1096. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9931-1. Epub 2017 Jun 26.

Trust in Science: CRISPR-Cas9 and the Ban on Human Germline Editing.

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Egenis, Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter, Byrne House, St German's Road, Exeter, EX4 4PJ, UK.


In 2015 scientists called for a partial ban on genome editing in human germline cells. This call was a response to the rapid development of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a molecular tool that allows researchers to modify genomic DNA in living organisms with high precision and ease of use. Importantly, the ban was meant to be a trust-building exercise that promises a 'prudent' way forward. The goal of this paper is to analyse whether the ban can deliver on this promise. To do so the focus will be put on the precedent on which the current ban is modelled, namely the Asilomar ban on recombinant DNA technology. The analysis of this case will show (a) that the Asilomar ban was successful because of a specific two-step containment strategy it employed and (b) that this two-step approach is also key to making the current ban work. It will be argued, however, that the Asilomar strategy cannot be transferred to human genome editing and that the current ban therefore fails to deliver on its promise. The paper will close with a reflection on the reasons for this failure and on what can be learned from it about the regulation of novel molecular tools.


Asilomar conference; CRISPR–Cas9; Genome editing; Human embryo; Moratorium; Recombinant DNA technology

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