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Most Americans Think Editing the Human Genome Is Okay


In a survey published today in Science, two-thirds of people polled believe that using gene-editing technology to modify human cells was "acceptable." The survey (PDF, sub required), which was carried out by researchers at the University of Wisonsin in Madison and Temple University, presented 1,600 people with various hypothetical use cases for genome editing technology. For example, it asked how people felt about modifying DNA in human germ-line cells, which can be passed down to future generations, versus genes in somatic cells, which aren't.

In general, most respondents frowned on germ-line editing, with just 26 percent of people in support of it, versus 39 percent endorsing editing of somatic cells. That fits with the results of previous surveys, which have shown that people don't generally like the idea of creating "designer babies" or genetically enhanced humans that pass down their artificial advantages to their offspring.

Opinions were much more favorable toward people editing their own bodies—59 percent of survey participants said that would be fine, whether it meant altering DNA to cure a disease, or even for some kind of enhancement.

For now, such a scenario remains largely academic, but it won't be for long. As we reported last week, U.S. researchers are already testing gene-editing techniques on human embryos as a way to fix serious disease. And in extreme cases, some cancer patients have their immune cells genetically modified to fight tumors. As such technologies continue to develop, it will be important to keep an eye on how the public receives them.