IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Gene editing, the good first and then the worries

13th October, 2020 Editorial

Context: With the Chemistry Nobel thrusting CRISPR-Cas9 into the limelight, India needs guidelines for gene-editing research

  • The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded “for the development of a method for genome editing”.

Discovery, likely omissions

  • The two scientists have pioneered the use of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) – Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) system as a gene-editing tool.
  • In a short period of eight years since its discovery, the method has already made a significant impact in biology, medicine, and agriculture.
  • It is not often that one sees practical applications of scientific findings in such a short time.
  • The only other work with such a quick and revolutionary impact, is PCR (polymerase chain reaction) invented by Kary Mullis in 1983.

When the world was shocked

  • In India, there is a long way to go before realising the utility of gene editing for therapeutic applications.
  • The world was alarmed in 2018 when Chinese scientist He Jiankui edited genes in human embryos using the CRISPR-Cas9 system that were subsequently implanted and resulted in the birth of twin girls.
  • The incident became known as the case of the first gene-edited babies of the world.
  • Following a global outcry, the World Health Organization formed a panel of gene-editing experts which said “a central registry of all human genome editing research was needed in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work”.
  • It called upon WHO “to start setting up such a registry immediately”.

Situation in India

  • In India, several rules, guidelines, and policies backed by the “Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989” notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
  • EPA also regulates genetically modified organisms.
  • The National Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research involving human participants, 2017, by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the Biomedical and Health Research Regulation Bill implies regulation of the gene-editing process.
  • This is especially so in the usage of its language “modification, deletion or removal of parts of heritable material”. However, there is no explicit mention of the term gene editing.


  • It is time that India came up with a specific law to ban germline editing and put out guidelines for conducting gene-editing research giving rise to modified organisms.