Director of Genetics at Pope’s Hospital explains why it’s unethical to alter DNA


The scientific community was shocked when Chinese scientist, He JianKui, reported that he had altered the DNA of two twin babies to prevent them from carrying the AIDS virus.

Most scientists have labeled this experiment ‘excessive’ and it has triggered a great ethical debate. Bruno Dallapiccola is a geneticist and since 2010 he has been the scientific director of the Bambino Gesù hospital, known as the Pope’s hospital. He explains that this will have consequences.

Scientific Director, Bambino Gesù Hospital 
“On a scientific level, we are accustomed to the fact that when there is a barrier and that barrier is crossed, the line is pushed further away. Now there is great uncertainty because, unfortunately, what governs our discipline is economic interest and it is likely that these interests will lead to more experiments of this type.”

The technique used to do this experiment with embryos is called CRISPR. This cuts out part of the DNA, and is reinserted again when it is genetically modified.

The professor explains that the efficacy is not definitive and that it could cause unknown side-effects over time. 

Scientific Director, Bambino Gesù Hospital 
“The problem with these scissors is that they cut DNA from tens or hundreds of different parts of the genome. Each cut made in the genome can cause mutations or alterations in the DNA structure or function. Embryos have become a ‘something’ and not a ‘someone.’ The latter is the way we believe they should be considered.”

World legislation, even in China, prohibits the genetic alteration of an embryo. This is because it impedes the natural development of the genome, which should remain unaltered.

Bruno Dallapiccola explains that the ambition to discover the most advanced techniques causes scientific researchers to lose their humility.

Scientific Director, Bambino Gesù Hospital 
“From a practical point of view, it is a fantasy to think that if I modify a part of the genome, I will create the perfect individual or a person free of problems. Unfortunately, today, research lacks humility. There is a term that is used a lot in genetics and it is ‘playing God,’ We researchers must realize that we are not God and come back to down to earth.”

Scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as the perfect human being. The point is that these great scientific breakthroughs that currently frighten and create debates could become normal in a matter of years. The questions are: What are the ethical limits? What does this mean for the human species?


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