Once again, the debate over designer babies is started to percolate.
This time, it's over US research presented last fall, but largely ignored until the Sunday Times of London reported on in this past weekend.
For the first time, scientists have been able to successfully splice a gene into a human embryo. In essence, genetically modifying a human.
The lead scientist, Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, is quick to point out that his team is not trying to genetically modify humans or create designer babies.
In fact, the point of the research, involving an non-viable embryo, was to insert a marker gene and then test whether it could be traced through stem cells, in hopes of figuring out why abnormal embryos fail to develop.
The embryo in question was never implanted in a womb. "None of us wants to make designer babies," said Rosenwaks has been widely quoted as saying.
Ethicists, however, fear that the methods developed by Rosenwaks can also be used to insert genes to embryos to alter the kind of baby that is later born -- blue eyes, blond hair, whatever. Such babies would be designer babies.
"And they're doing it without any kind of public debate," says Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.
Kathy Hudson at the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., is less worried: "We're not even close to having that technology in hand to be able to do it right."