New technique could lead to "risky eugenics", says IVF pioneer

Michael Cook
7 June 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Britain's leading fertility doctor, Lord Robert Winston, has warned that his recent research could open the door to "risky" eugenics programs.

Lord Winston, who developed preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and his colleagues have developed a technique to splice genes into sperm , thus making it far easier to modify the genetic make-up of embryos. His focus is creating genetically modified pigs whose organs could be transplanted into humans without being rejected.

However, he told the Cheltenham Science Festival this week that it will be a far easier way to create "designer babies" because it would not be necessary to manipulate embryos. Only artificial insemination would be needed.

"Artificial insemination is an easy way to get something pregnant. You just modify the sperm beforehand. The idea we had was not using embryos at all. We've always been interested in trying to make transplant organs from the pig which would not be recognised by the human immune system. It's a step forward in genetic research which is really interesting because if you can modify large animals and you don't need to use IVF then obviously the biggest large animals, clearly, is ourselves.

But he acknowledges that the technique could be misused by rogue scientists.

"You could easily see how this kind of thing could be used in North Korea for example. I don't think it's very likely it will be used in the UK in a mischievous way but I've no doubt that given the burgeoning market, given the desperation of people who want to enhance their children in all sorts of ways, humans might be tempted to use this and that therefore it does become a form of eugenics.

"Every piece of science has an upside and a downside. There comes a point where you have to publish what you've been doing.

"I'm not trying to make an exaggerated claim for what we have done at all but I think the reproductive technologies are being misused in my view. This is far more likely to be a serious threat than cloning. Cloning seems a useless technology."