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Rebecca Zisser / Axios

CRISPR has been used to alter genes in many plant and animal species, adult humans and recently human embryos. Continued successful studies may lead to a time when we can "fix" genetic problems before birth. But as the scientific studies of gene editing progress, we have to answer some questions:

  • Genetic changes to a human embryo are "germ-line" changes that can be passed on to future generations. While that means we wouldn't have to treat a disease in each subsequent generation, scientists are naturally wary of these types of interventions because we don't yet understand the long-term repercussions of making a genetic change that will affect more than the original entity.
  • Gene editing raises the specter of parents manipulating their children, and a Gattaca-type future of haves and have-nots. But these first experiments involved only a change to a single gene in an embryo in a petri dish. Most characteristics parents are likely to want to design involve multiple genes, and environmental interactions. If we can eventually tailor those traits, should we? What things are permissible to alter? And who should control access to this new technology?
  • Before we implant modified embryos we'll have to address whether this is acceptable experimentation on pregnant women or the subsequently born child.

The bottom line: Science does not translate immediately into practice. We won't have "designer babies" anytime soon but these are important early studies, and they raise a number of ethical questions. We should consider those questions carefully.

Go deeper

Kevin McCarthy's rude awakening

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is learning you can get torched when you try to make everyone happy, especially after an insurrection.

Why it matters: The House Republican leader had been hoping to use this year to build toward taking the majority in 2022, but his efforts to bridge intra-party divisiveness over the Capitol siege have him taking heat from every direction, eroding his stature both with the public and within his party.

The next big political war: redistricting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats are preparing a mix of tech and legal strategies to combat expected gerrymandering by Republicans, who are planning to go on legal offense themselves.

Why it matters: Democrats failed to regain a single state legislature on Election Day, while Republicans upped their control to 30 states' Houses and Senates. In the majority of states, legislatures draw new congressional district lines, which can boost a party's candidates for the next decade.

33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Vaccinations, relief timing dominate Sweet 16 call

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a news conference in December with a group of bipartisan lawmakers. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Vaccine distribution, pandemic data and a cross-party comity dominated today's virtual meeting between White House officials and a bipartisan group of 16 senators, Senator Angus King told Axios.

Why it matters: Given Democrats' razor-thin majority in both chambers of Congress, President Biden will have to rely heavily on this group of centrist lawmakers — dubbed the "Sweet 16" — to pass any substantial legislation.

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