Scientists Create First Genetically Engineered Human Embryos In US

Scientists genetically a modify human embryo for the first time

CRISPR works as a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace it with new stretches of DNA.Scientists in China have published identical studies with mixed result.

They said it would be "irresponsible" to use gene editing technology in human embryos for therapeutic purposes, such as to correct genetic diseases, until safety and efficacy issues are resolved.

Oregon Health and Science University scientists changed the DNA of single-celled human embryos using a gene-editing technique called CRISPR, according to anonymous people familiar with the procedures.

It is thought to be the first such work in the USA; previous experiments like this have been reported from China.

"Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days - and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb - the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans", said the report in the MIT Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scientists wanted to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like thalassemia.

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.

"It's very hard to be able to comment on any specifics or the robustness of the science because there is no scientific paper", said Simon Waddington, Reader in Gene Transfer Technology at University College London.

The research, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, head of OHSU's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy, involves a technology known as CRISPR.

A scientist familiar with Mitalipov's project said the tests were "proof of principle that it can work". "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", an unnamed scientist told the MIT Technology Review.

Now Mitalipov's team has apparently managed to reduce the rate of mosaicism by injecting the CRISPR machinery at an earlier stage, at the same time as the eggs were fertilised with sperm. 'They significantly reduced mosaicism.

The US intelligence community past year labelled CRISPR a potential 'weapon of mass destruction'.

In February, the US National Academy of Sciences released a report, endorsing the use of gene editing, but only for "serious conditions under stringent oversight".

The technique was previously tested by Tony Perry, who was able to successfully edit the genes in mice to change the expected fur color of their offspring.


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