Scientists Create First Genetically Engineered Human Embryos In US

The power to change your DNAEQUINOX GRAPHICS  SCIENCE

The power to change your DNAEQUINOX GRAPHICS SCIENCE

In a first for the United States, scientists have used technology that allows genes to be modified in a human embryo, according to Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

The report, published Wedesday, says OHSU researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov successfully used the gene editing technology CRISPR to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos.

According to MIT Technology Review, the experiment was just an exercise in science - the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never meant to be implanted into a womb.

But this practice, many critics warn, could open the doors to a Brave New World-like scenario of "designer babies", engineered to produce the most desirable traits.

For many, one of the most important reasons behind editing human embryos is that it has the potential to prevent genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or Huntington's disease, which are caused by mutations in a single gene and could be fixed using CRISPR. It's like using a molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, and is much more precise than some types of gene therapy that can not ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended. The team's results are still pending publication, so we'll likely hear more details about the study in the future. A bioethical firestorm erupted in 2015 when researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University announced that they had tried to use CRISPR to correct the genes for the blood disease beta-thalassemia in 86 human embryos.

The embryos, which were modified to test the feasibility of fixing known disease-causing genes, were terminated days after the experiment.

Up until now, reports about human-related gene editing usually come from outside the U.S. China, in particular, hasn't been holding back when it comes to CRISPR experimentation.

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But many are opposed to these types of experiments, including religious, civil society and biotech groups.

But the team behind the work has yet to publish its findings in a scientific journal, and peers said it was too early to judge how successful the results might be.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool for making precise edits in DNA, discovered in bacteria.

By editing this tag, scientists are able to target the enzyme to specific regions of DNA and make precise cuts, wherever they like.

A scientist who is familiar with the project but chose to remain anonymous said: "It is proof of principle that it can work".

Don't expect a new generation of gene-edited people in the United States, though: Any local efforts to turn edited IVF embryos into babies have, so far, been blocked by Congress.

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