Oregon scientists performed the first known instance of gene editing on human embryos in the US using a gene-editing tool called CRISPR. According to MIT Technology Review, the project involved editing the DNA of several one-cell embryos.
Other attempts at editing human embryos carried out exclusively in other countries. Particularly, China hasn’t been holding back when it comes to CRISPR experimentation. However, the latest experiment demonstrates that human embryos to repair a gene that causes fatal blood disorder.
US government blocked clinical trials that involve genetically modifying human embryos. The practice raises a lot of ethical concerns with critics being especially worried that it could lead to designer babies. Modifying an embryo to eradicate heritable diseases is called “germline engineering,” which involves changing genes with his or her germ cells.
None of the modified embryos given the time to develop for more than a few days, and researchers claim that there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb.
The study led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team uses CRISPR to edit embryos without causing an error called mosaicism. This means the editing occurred in the wrong place in the DNA and that it wasn’t occurring in all embryos equally. In previous attempts CRISPR on human embryos not fully successful. As certain editing errors occurred and DNA changes not adopted by all the cells of an embryo.
Researchers managed to avoid that problem by injecting CRISPR segments used to cut out unwanted genes and sperm cells into the eggs at the same time. It’s unclear what illnesses involved exactly, but they used sperm donated by subjects with various inheritable diseases.
Regardless, the work is a major breakthrough in the genetics field. Though how it will ultimately implemented to determine.