This Outdated Law Makes CRISPR Illegal in Canada—and That’s Hurting Science
Canada is among the few countries in the world where genetically engineering human embryos isn’t just illegal, doing so could land you behind bars.
In the United States, using genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR to make genetic alterations that can be passed on to future generations is illegal, but scientists are still allowed to conduct experiments that include genetically altering embryos, so long as those embryos never have the chance to become babies.
In Canada, though, even basic research that might be categorized as “germline editing” risks a hefty fine or up to 10 years in prison. Now Canadian scientists and ethicists have joined forces to speak out against the prohibition and its damaging impact on Canadian science.
“Scientists here feel left behind,” Vardit Ravitsky, a University of Montreal bioethicist, told Gizmodo. “They have the technical capacity to do this research and they have these good research questions. The only reason they’re not doing it is legal.”
Canadian scientists have found themselves left out of the conversation as even countries like the US, with its relatively strict prohibitions on human germline editing, are breaking new ground with CRISPR at a rapid clip. In China, over the past two years, scientists have already edited the DNA of embryos several times over. In the US, in August scientists genetically modified a human embryo for the first time, removing a disease-causing genetic mutation, prompting calls for the country to lift a ban on federal funding for research that involves germline editing. In the UK, scientists have been given the green-light to edit genes in embryos for research, too.