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Scientists in China Just Edited Genes in Human Embryos for the First Time

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 Talon    716

Scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China announced this week that they attempted to modify a disease-causing gene in human embryos using a controversial new gene-editing technique called CRIS​PR-Cas9.

Their study, publis​hed in the online journal Protein & Cell, marks the first time scientists have reported tampering with the genetic material of human embryos.

CRISPR-Cas9 uses an enzyme system from bacteria that can recognize and splice DNA at highly targeted locations. Its use in reproductive human cells is controversial because scientists don’t yet know what type of effects it might have. Though the Sun Yat-sen researchers specifically used non-viable embryos in their experiment, experts are concerned that the study makes advances towards genetically engineering viable embryos—a process that could cause unintended, harmful mutations in recipient babies and their future offspring. 

Many researchers had publicly expressed concerns in anticipation of the Sun Yat-sen study, which has been rumo​red to come out for a couple months. Last month, before any such research had been published, two independent teams of scientists published editorials in Nat​ure and Sci​ence calling for a pause on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in human reproductive cells.

“We have a lot to understand about how this technology works in reproductive cells, such as how safe it is, how efficient it is, and what level of off-targeting occurs,” Jennife​r D​oudna, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who helped invent CRISPR-Cas9, told Motherboard last week, before the Sun Yat-sen study came out. (Off-targeting refers to when CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes miss the gene they are targeting.)


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