Documents to download

Changes made to DNA in human eggs, sperm or embryos (germline cells) can be passed on to future generation. The methods used to to make such changes are referred to as human germline genome editing (hGGE). This POSTnote reviews techniques available for hGGE, their safety and potential applications. It also outlines current regulation and governance of hGGE and examines issues raised by any potential future uses of hGGE.

Key Points:

  • hGGE involves making edits to DNA in egg, sperm or embryo cells
  • It has the potential to prevent serious heritable disorders but there are safety and ethical concerns over its possible use
  • There has been a reported use of hGGE resulting in the births of twin girls in China
  • In the UK, genome editing of human germline cells in research is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. It has issued a licence for a project involving such research.

UK law prohibits the use of hGGE as part of IVF treatment in women.

Acknowledgements:

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders, and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers* for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Andrew Webster, University of York*
  • Andy Greenfield, University of Oxford*
  • Anna Middleton, Wellcome Genome Campus*
  • Anne Kerr, Leeds University
  • Catherine Drennan, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority*
  • Charis Thompson, London School of Economics*
  • Charlotte Elves, Oxford University*
  • Dafni Moschidou, Department of Health and Social Care*
  • David King, StopDesignerBabies*
  • Emily Clarke, Genetic Disorders UK*
  • Emily Jackson, London School of Economics
  • Emma Johnson, PHG Foundation
  • Felicity Boardman, University of Warwick*
  • Fiona Coyle, University of Edinburgh
  • Gemma Wood, The Francis Crick Institution*
  • Ilke Turkmendag, Newcastle University
  • Jayne Spink, Genetic Alliance UK*
  • Jessica Bell, Oxford University*
  • Jonathan Roberts. Wellcome Genome Campus*
  • Jonny Hazell, The Royal Society
  • Julian Hitchcock, Bristows*
  • Kathy Niakan, The Francis Crick Institute*
  • Katie Hasson, Centre for Genetics and Society*
  • Laura Riley, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority*
  • Marcy Darnovsky, Centre for Genetics and Society*
  • Mark Bale, Department of Health and Social Care*
  • Mary Herbert, Newcastle University
  • Michael Morrison, Oxford University*
  • Miranda Mourby, Oxford University*
  • Monika Preuss, Department of Health and Social Care*
  • Pauline McCormack, Newcastle University*
  • Pete Shanks, Centre for Genetics and Society*
  • Peter Mills, Nuffield Council on Bioethics*
  • Richard Milne, Wellcome Genome Campus
  • Robin Lovell-Badge, The Francis Crick Institute*
  • Rumiana Yotova, University of Cambridge*
  • Sally Cheshire, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority *
  • Sandy Starr, Progress Educational Trust*
  • Steve Pugh, Department of Health and Social Care*
  • Tanya Brigden, PHG Foundation
  • Teodora Popa, University College London
  • Tess Whitton, University of Melbourne*
  • Tom Shakespeare, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine*

Documents to download

Related posts

  • A POSTnote on preventing zoonotic diseases will review the evidence on a One Health approach to zoonoses prevention. It will focus on the animal-environment-human interface in both wild and domestic animals, reviewing national and international policy approaches, and lessons learnt from previous epidemics. It will also summarise opportunities and challenges for the UK’s role in global health and biosecurity policy arenas post COVID-19. Provisional start date: January 2021.

  • A POSTnote on childhood obesity will summarise the latest trends in children’s diet, obesity and related health conditions and review the impacts of previous policy changes such as the tax on sugar sweetened drinks. It will also examine the factors underlying the growing gap in outcomes for children from the most and least deprived backgrounds. Provisional start date: January 2021.

  • Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.