A Majority of Americans Are in Favor of Editing the DNA of Unborn Children, Poll Says

A majority of Americans approve of altering an unborn baby's DNA for the purpose of improving the child's health, a new poll shows.

A Pew Research Center poll found that 76 percent of Americans say that editing a baby's genes in order to prevent a serious disease at birth is acceptable. The poll was conducted to better understand public opinion about gene editing technology.

The survey found that 60 percent of Americans are in favor of the use of gene-editing technology in unborn babies to lower the likelihood that the child will develop a serious disease over his or her lifetime.

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At the same time, a majority consider the use of such techniques to boost a baby's intelligence, for example, a step "too far"—only 19 percent of those questioned were in favor.

About 2,537 people in the U.S. took the survey between April 23 and May 6.

Gene editing in babies is inching closer to becoming a reality as a new technology, known as CRISPR, which can effectively cut the DNA, becomes more widely understood and used.

In June, U.S. researchers developed a technique to edit out some traits associated with autism in mice. But they are still not sure if this will ever be safe in humans.

In another study, described in the journal Nature, scientists detailed the possibility of using CRISPR to edit genes in human embryos to correct a mutation that causes a heart defect.

"Every generation on would carry this repair because we've removed the disease-causing gene variant from that family's lineage," one of the lead researchers Shoukhrat Mitalipov, told the BBC.

"By using this technique, it's possible to reduce the burden of this heritable disease on the family and eventually the human population," he said.

Still, questions remain about the safety and ethics of editing the human genome. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow clinical trials that involve making genetic changes that can be inherited, according to The New York Times.

"A method of being able to avoid having affected children passing on the affected gene could be really very important for those families," Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute, told the BBC.

"In terms of when, definitely not yet. It's going to be quite a while before we know that it's going to be safe."