A group of U.S. scientists and activists on Monday called for a global ban on the use of new tools to edit the genes of human embryos, in a report issued a day before a major international meeting in Washington to discuss the ethical and policy issues surrounding the technology.

A technological innovation that can strategically edit out specific stretches of DNA could ultimately lead to the genetic modification of children, and should be halted before it starts being used, scientists at the Center for Genetics and Society and the activist group Friends of the Earth argued in their report.

“Once the process begins, there will be no going back. This is a line we must not cross,” said Pete Shanks, a consulting researcher with the Center for Genetics and Society and author of the report.

Advocates say the technology, CRISPR/Cas9, can speed the day that scientists can prevent heritable diseases. Opponents worry about unknown effects on future generations and the temptation for future parents to pay for genetic enhancements such as greater intelligence or athletic ability.

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