First human embryos genetically modified in US

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

One prominent genetics expert, Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said gene editing of embryos is "an unstoppable, inevitable science, and this is more proof it can be done".

An Oregon scientist known for breaking barriers has done it again, successfully modifying DNA in human embryos, according to a report in Technology Review.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, head of OHSU's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy and lead author on the research, explains that their study made use of the innovative technology CRISPR.

The DNA of human embryos has been edited previously by scientists in China, but this is thought to be the first time the controversial practice has been carried out in the US.

The embryos were only allowed to develop for a few days, the report said. 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. As a result, any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells-the egg and sperm. "So far as I know this will be the first study reported in the US", says Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who played a role in the project.

Scientists in China have attempted the same experiments on human embryos, to mixed results. What we've found out, however, is that it's possible to use CRISPR to edit embryos without causing an error called "mosaicism", Engadget said.

The approach holds great potential to avoid many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of "designer babies" if done for less lofty reasons, such as producing desirable traits.

By now, most of us know what CRISPR gene editing is.

But in February, a report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine said that clinical trials for gene editing of human reproductive cells "could be permitted in the future, but only for serious conditions under stringent oversight".

The advisory committee drew a red line at genetic enhancements-like higher intelligence.

Mitalipov has always been pioneer in embryo research. The Tech Review could not determine which disease genes researchers chose for editing.

"If America were to take the lead both in terms of working with journals, working with private foundations, with patient groups, and working with state and federal government, I think you'd get collaboration from the rest of the world", Caplan says. 'They significantly reduced mosaicism.

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