In a highly controversial step, Japan has issued raft guidelines allowing the use of gene-editing tools in human embryos. The proposal by explicitly allowing the use of gene-editing tools will encourage this kind of research and will reflect a major shift from Japan’s hitherto neutral stance on the issue.

Japan had previously closely regulated usage of human embryos for research. If the new guidelines are adopted, they will restrict the manipulation of human embryos for reproduction. However, this would not be legally binding.

Opinion on the measure is divided

While the decision has raised eyebrows, some researchers hope these tools could help fix genetic mutations that cause diseases, before they are passed on by using the insights gained from manipulating DNA in embryos.

On the other hand, many Ethicists and researchers are concerned that gene editing of embryos could be used to alter DNA in embryos for non-medical reasons or promote the concept to “designer babies”.

 “I believe this is the first report of this gene-modifying technique applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,”

George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston,said in a comment to Nature.

Japan’s draft guidelines will be open for public comment from next month.