Two Nobel Prize winners are worried about the creation of genetically modified embryos

Publié le 24 Mar, 2015

A team of eighteen American scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners [1], have published a warning on the potential uses of the new tool, “CRISPR-Cas9”, in the Science journal. They echo the sentiments of five scientists who published an appeal for a moratorium on 16 March.

This technique known as “CRISPR-Cas9” was discovered in 2012 by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. This is a “DNA construction kit“, an enzyme likely to “cut DNA strands“. Combined with genome sequencing, which can identify anomalies, this tool “eradicates the genetic disorders in embryo DNA“, but also “creates a line responding to pre-defined criteria“. This is a “fantastic tool“, the “corruption of which could rekindle the spectra of eugenics and transhumanism“.


Tests have only been carried out in mice and monkeys to date“. However, the signatories are calling for a moratorium on clinical trials in humans and are requesting a major summit. In particular, they are afraid of using this technique (simple and inexpensive) on germinal cells, with changes being transmitted to future generations: “A cautious route must be taken before handling the germinal cell genome“. For Philippe Kourilsky, Honorary Professor at Collège de France, “a distinction must be made between methods and principles. Nowadays, it would be premature to handle the human genome of germinal cells: these techniques are not safe“.


Such procedures are forbidden in France, within the scope of PMA[2]. “We are not close to getting involved in that,” announced Alain Fisher, who manages the Imagine Institute, specialising in genetic diseases at Necker Hospital. France, like 28 other European countries, has ratified the Oviedo agreement, which stipulates that “an intervention seeking to modify the human genome may only be undertaken for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic purposes and only if its aim is not to introduce any modification in the genome of any descendants“. But other less stringent countries are targeted in particular by the call for scientists who fear they are harbouring ” sorcerer’s apprentice research“.


George Church, a renowned scientist at Harvard University, “manages to dodge the issue“. He is a cosignatory of the Science article, calling for “caution in these practices“, but also participates in “transhumanist group meetings“, explaining the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 against heart diseases or Alzheimer’s disease.



 [1] David Baltimore and Paul Berg.

[2] 2004 Bioethics Law.


Le Monde 25.03.2015 – Science 20.03.2015

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