Two-thirds of Americans approve of editing human DNA to treat disease

About two-thirds of Americans support the use of gene editing to treat diseases, according to a new survey. But opinions vary a lot based on people’s religious beliefs and how much they know about gene editing in general.

The research, published earlier this month in Science, shows that across the board, people want to be involved in a public discussion about editing the human genome. And that conversation with scientists and public officials needs to happen now, as the technology is still developing, says study co-author Dietram Scheufele, a science communication scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The results are based on a survey of 1,600 US adults conducted in December 2016 and January 2017.

The goal of the survey was to probe public opinion on a revolutionary piece of technology that’s advancing fast, Scheufele tells The Verge. The advent of powerful gene editing tools like CRISPR is making editing human DNA incredibly easy and precise. The technology holds the potential to rid humanity of diseases like sickle cell anemia. Earlier this month, researchers in the US successfully edited dozens of human embryos and corrected a gene mutation that causes a serious heart condition. (The embryos were not developed into babies.)

But how does the public feel about editing human DNA? First of all, gene editing can mean a lot of different things: you can edit the human genome for therapeutic purposes, to treat disease, for instance; or potentially to “enhance” human abilities, such as intelligence. And those changes can be made so that they’re passed on to future generations (so-called germline editing) or so that they affect only the individual whose cells are being edited (somatic editing).

Scheufele wanted to survey the public on gene editing in all its nuances, because people may have very different opinions on whether embryos are edited to cure a crippling disease or to boost a kid’s intelligence. (None of…

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