In US first, scientists edit genes of human embryos

The power to change your DNAEQUINOX GRAPHICS  SCIENCE

Chinese scientists claim to have edited the genes of human embryos using CRISPR on three separate occasions.

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. The fear is that it can lead to manipulating the human genome at will-not only to correct genetic defects, but to enhance certain human characteristics, such as athleticism and intelligence, and remove those viewed as undesirable.

An unnamed scientist familiar with the work told MIT Technology Review that it was "proof of principle that it can work". 'They significantly reduced mosaicism. A report in MIT Tech Review says the results are the most promising so far but the lack of detail means it is not possible to judge whether this really is the case.

The Oregon group managed to avoid that problem by injecting CRISPR segments - DNA segments used to cut out unwanted genes - and sperm cells into the eggs at the same time.

Many critics are anxious that the practice could lead to "designer babies" that are engineered with genetic enhancements.

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It involves technology called "CRISPR" to alter genes in embryos. "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", said a scientist familiar with the project.

That concept is similar to one tested in mice by Tony Perry of Bath University. With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring. In 2007, he unveiled the world's first cloned monkeys.

But many are opposed to these types of experiments over concerns it could be used to create "designer babies".

His team's move into embryo editing coincides with a report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in February that was widely seen as providing a green light for lab research on germline modification. 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.

Despite such barriers, the creation of a gene-edited person could be attempted at any moment, including by IVF clinics operating facilities in countries where there are no such legal restrictions.

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