We all know that we are living in the age of potential “designer babies,” but gene therapy has been progressing quite slowly until now. Generally, the oocyte is modified in gene therapy but scientists from the Royal Veterinary College in the UK decided to utilize sperm.
The scientists used the lentivirus as a viral vector to introduce genes for green fluorescent protein (GFP) into mouse sperm (think back to the process of transduction from your biology class!). After using the modified sperm for the in-vitro fertilization process, interestingly, they saw that the GFP genes were actually inherited by the offspring! 42% of the offspring expressed GFP in various tissues. These scientists essentially created “designer sperm” that could potentially allow for control of offspring features. Current technology allows embryos to be tested before being implanted in women so parents can choose not to implant an embryo that carries a disease gene. It can also be used to select for gender, hair color, and eye color. Another process recently developed involves CRISPR genes which are palindromic repeats that can help “edit” genes (more on this in another article!).
This method of modifying sperm is a major brekthrough in gene therapy, has enormous medical potential, and can drastically change the concept of preventive medicine. It also raises a lot of questions about the ethics of gene selection that should be answered before this technology that can alter generations becomes widely available.
1. Is sperm-centric genetic modification ethical? How far is too far in gene selection?
2. What will this technology specifically be used for and will it be abused?
3. What kinds of diseases can this be used for?
4. What kinds of regulation will be required to prevent abuse of transgenic technology?
5.Who will have access to this technology?
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