USA scientists make advances in modifying human embryos

Tabitha Dunn
July 28, 2017

It went beyond previous experiments using CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos, all of which were conducted in China, in that it edited the genomes of many more embryos and targeted a gene associated with a significant human disease.

A researcher at Oregon Health and Science University has reportedly become the first in the United States to genetically modify a human embryo, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review.

The team, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, used CRISPR to alert the DNA of one-cell organisms. 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.

Scientists in China were the first to carry out gene editing on human embryos in 2015, although with mixed results, the British journal Nature reported.

The tool-considered by some a "genetic superweapon" and others as the single most important discovery of the 21st century-may be a cure for cancer, the flu, or AIDS; it could be used to wipe out all mosquitoes or create hyper-intelligent babies. Perry successfully edited the mouse gene for coat color, changing the fur of the offspring from the expected brown to white. "Research embryos" that are "not to be transferred for possible implantation" are "not a big deal", he argued.

The OHSU researchers are said to have broken new ground, Reuters reports. Or you could have the National Academy of Sciences work with industry and Congress to lay out a review committee and permit funding.

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Engineered humans are still far away into the future.

Mitalipov's team worked with human embryos produced by sperm from men with a genetic mutation, the report said, noting they were of "clinical quality". That makes gene-editing unsafe.

Because changing the DNA of an early embryo results in changes to cells that will eventually produce sperm and eggs, if the embryo is born and grows to adulthood, any children he or she has will inherit the genetic adjustment, which is called germline editing.

Some in the field questioned just how groundbreaking the research is.

In recent days the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created the Safe Genes program in order to better understand how these gene editing technologies work. Hank Greely, a law professor and bioethicist at Stanford University, tweeted that the real breakthrough will be when someone actually implants the human embryos, so they can develop into human beings.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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