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Most Americans think it's OK to tweak a baby’s genes to prevent disease

A new survey of Americans' views shows a growing acceptance for some uses of gene editing

BETTERING BABIES Americans are growing more accepting of altering genes to improve babies' health, but not to make infants smarter, a new poll indicates.


Only a day after the first test-tube baby turned 40, a poll about American's attitudes toward tweaking unborn babies' genes reveals the hopes and hesitations of being on the brink of the latest reproductive era.

Americans generally favor gene editing, but only for heading off diseases. Boosting intelligence would be "taking medical technology too far," survey respondents said. (Not that scientists know how to genetically boost intelligence now anyway.) And few people were on board with doing the research necessary to cure disease or up IQ scores - research most likely to involve editing embryos, sperm or eggs because you have to make the changes as early in development as possible for maximum effect.

Even so, the poll - released July 26 by the Pew Research Center - suggests that acceptance for the idea of gene editing is growing as fast as advances in the technology itself. In 2014, people were only just beginning to hear about such molecular scissors as CRISPR/Cas9 or other enzymes being used to cut or alter genes to fix disease-causing variants. A Pew poll that December, while not entirely comparable, found that only 46 percent of Americans contacted said it was appropriate to alter a baby's genetic makeup to head off disease.

Now we're living in an age of "three-parent babies" (created by swapping the DNA from a fertilized egg with unhealthy mitochondria into an empty egg with healthy mitochondria) and millions of babies born by in vitro fertilization each year. And last year, scientists successfully edited viable human embryos to repair a version of a gene that leads to heart failure.

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