top of page

Genome Editing 101: Politics on Genome Editing


For the first time in human history, we not only understand the language of life, but we can also manipulate it. In the past two decades, a lot of advancements have been made to contribute to the realm of genome editing. Genome editing is the combination of techniques that allow us to manipulate the DNA of bacteria, fungi, and even humans. Manipulating genetic codes have an enormous influence and can be used to increase crop yields, produce medicines in bacteria, and even cure genetic diseases.

The Genome Editing 101 series offers to explain the relevant biology of gene editing, the mechanisms by which such techniques work, and the ethical and political problems that arise from this new field of biology. It will be mainly divided into the following chapters:

1. Genome Editing 101: Central Dogma of the Cell

2. Genome Editing 101: Gene Editing Techniques

3. Genome Editing 101: Applications of Genome Editing

4. Genome Editing 101: Politics on Genome Editing

5. Genome Editing 101: Ethical Problems in Genome Editing

6. Genome Editing 101: Future of Genome Editing

Genome Editing 101: Politics on Genome Editing

Gene-editing has been a controversial subject for years, if not decades. This was the case for many technological breakthroughs. People were scared of steam-trains when they first appeared, just like they were of airplanes and computers. There is, however, a large difference between these breakthroughs and the new technology of gene-editing. Nowadays, scientists understand the blueprints of the human body in terms of a single molecule called DNA. Not only is this molecule well-understood, but it can now also be manipulated. As the manipulation of genomes introduces significant ethical questions, this branch of science has been heavily debated in politics too, and the differences between national legislations are astounding. In this article, the United States, China and the European Union are taken a closer look at, on account of these three being the biggest contributors to gene-editing research (Arabi et al., 2022).

The fact that scientists are now able to change the genetic composition of virtually any organism offers great ethical issues. Biological research has been used for political agendas in both the present and the past, from the infamous experiments performed in concentration camps during WWII to the more recent reports on forced DNA extraction and sterilisation of Uyghurs in Xingjiang (Offord, 2019; United Nations, 2022). Now that gene-editing offers new possibilities in biological research, the call for international regulation is becoming louder. That is why, in 2021, the WHO published recommendations on what to refrain from in research (United Nations, 2021).

Figure 1: The cover image of the WHO's report on recommendations concerning gene-editing (United Nations, 2021).

In this report, the Director General, Tederos, expresses the positive potential of gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9 in terms of human diseases. “But the full impact will only be realised if we deploy it for the benefit of all people,” he adds. Most notably, the distinction between somatic and germline gene-editing is stressed in this report. Somatic editing is the manipulation of the cells of one’s body, without any heritable consequences. An example might be a well-defined area occupied by a tumour on one’s skin. In theory, biologists could start therapy to induce mutations in only the cells that make up this tumour. On the contrary, germline editing is when the manipulations are heritable, in other words, it is when an embryo