Human embryos reportedly edited for first time in the USA using CRISPR

Human embryos reportedly edited for first time in the USA using CRISPR

Human embryos reportedly edited for first time in the USA using CRISPR

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University in the United States, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the controversial gene-editing technique CRISPR.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop beyond a few days, this breakthrough has meant scientists are now one step closer to achieving the birth of genetically modified human beings.

But critics of the CRISPR technology say it could open the door to the world of designer babies - where parents can select for specific traits in their child.

According to OHSU spokesperson Eric Robinson, the result of the peer-reviewed study are expected to be published soon in a scientific journal. One day, CRISPR could allow us to delete genes in order to eradicate genetic diseases, add in new genes in order to vastly improve various biological functions, or even genetically modify human embryos in order to create an entirely new class of humans...of super humans. The technology works as a kind of scissors that can snip selected, unwanted parts of the genome, replacing these with new DNA.

Scientists in China have previously published similar studies with mixed results. The study has demonstrated that it is possible to safely correct abnormal genes that cause hereditary diseases, and used quite a number of human embryos to experiment on.

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The object of altering human embryonic DNA is to correct or eliminate genes that lead to inherited diseases, such as the blood disorder beta-thalassemia.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov is the first USA -based scientist known to have edited the DNA of human embryos.

In December 2015, a group of global scientists and ethicists, including some from China, assembled by the US National Academy of Sciences said it would be irresponsible to use DNA editing tools to alter the genomes of human embryos, eggs, or sperm until safety, ethical and legal issues were resolved.

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

Speaking to Technology Review, a scientist familiar with the project said: 'It is proof of principle that it can work. They significantly reduced mosaicism. With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring.

The approach has been used previously to edit the HBB gene responsible for a condition called β-thalassaemia.

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