March 5, 2024

We need debate on germline modification, says leading UK scientist

Nobel laureate and new president of Royal Society gives it cautious backing

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan / Andy Hall for the Observer    

The new president of the Royal Society, the most prestigious body of scientists in the UK, who is also the 2009 Nobel laureate in chemistry, says that a debate is needed about germline modification.

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan says that genetic engineering has great potential for curing genetic diseases and that society must weigh up the risks and benefits.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sir Venki took a broadly positive view of germline modification, even though it is currently banned in the UK.

“There is great potential in germline therapy. There are clearly diseases that you could help by editing the germline. This is a case of a new technology where there are significant potential benefits, but also significant ethical implications.”

However, he believes that it needs to be studied thoroughly to get a consensus.

“It’s definitely a major step, there’s no getting around that. That’s why it’s important to really slow down and not rush any decisions. What we need is a diverse and transparent group of people to really come together and get to grips with how do we go about using this tool and are there red lines. They may well decide there are red lines we shouldn’t cross.” 

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