People generally think that editing human genes might be OK, but most think that there's a clear line that's shouldn't be crossed when it comes to changing traits that would be passed down to new generations, according to a survey reported Thursday.
It's not an abstract question. Earlier this month, gene editing made headlines after scientists in Oregon reported they had successfully corrected a genetic defect in human embryos in the laboratory.
Along with the potential to prevent some diseases, this technology also comes with complicated ethical questions, including what kind of gene edits would be acceptable and who could benefit or be harmed.
Just 26 percent of people surveyed approved of making changes to genes that will be passed down to future generations for enhancing normal traits — edits that would change a person's eye color, for example, or their height or IQ.
People were more accepting of gene editing aimed at treating or preventing disease. In these situations, about two thirds of people saw both inheritable treatments and those that can't be passed down as "acceptable."
Another report, published this week by the Pew Research Center, also showed that people are more concerned about germline editing, which changes can be passed down, than they are about gene editing done in somatic cells, which can't be inherited by future children. Parents of minor children were more concerns.
"There's probably much more optimism rather than pessimism about this technology overall," says Dietram Scheufele. He's a professor of science communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who led the survey published Thursday in Science.