The controversy over a Chinese scientist who claimed he created gene-edited babies has prompted the U.S. National Institutes of Health to join an international moratorium on such research.
"Today, leading scientists and ethicists from seven countries have called for an international moratorium on the use of genetic editing to modify the human germline for clinical purposes," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement Wednesday.
"The call comes in the wake of irresponsible and unethical research in China, in which twins were born after alterations to their DNA before implantation. This unexpected and unwelcome revelation roiled the scientific community and the general public, and crystalized the need for guiding international principles," Collins said.
"Research on the potential to alter the very biological essence of humanity raises profound safety, ethical, and philosophical issues," he added.
There was widespread outrage in the scientific community last year after a Chinese scientist claimed to have edited the genes of twins before they were born, to try to make them resistant to infection with HIV. After the announcement, China halted the work on gene-edited babies and proposed new rules for such research.
Gene editing of babies is highly controversial because such DNA changes can be passed to future generations and might damage other genes.
Gene editing for reproductive purposes is effectively banned in the United States and most of Europe.
"Until nations can commit to international guiding principles to help determine whether and under what conditions such research should ever proceed, NIH strongly agrees that an international moratorium should be put into effect immediately," Collins said.
It's hoped that the moratorium "will result in a judicious framework to address future decisions on whether or how the clinical use of germline editing could be done with the utmost respect for human life," Collins said.
Learn more about gene editing at yourgenome.org.