This is the first confirmed case of the gene editing of human embryos in the US and it gets scientists one step closer to the ability to create genetically engineered humans. Researchers in Portland, Oregon have used a powerful gene editing tool called CRISPR to create genetically modified human embryos, MIT Technology Review reported in an exclusive.
CRISPR, which is often compared to the cut-and-paste function on a word processor, is a powerful and comparatively new genetic engineering technique that allows scientists to make specific, targeted changes to the DNA of a plant, animal, or human. It’s relatively cheap and easy to use and has the potential to cure a wide range of diseases, such as muscular dystrophy or HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). But scientists seem to be using it to create designer humans and animals instead leading to ethics questions.
In 2015, Chinese scientists used CRISPR to make muscled beagles. But even beyond the often-stated fear that gene editing will lead to a world of designer babies and “genetic have-nots,” CRISPR is still new and may have consequences we don’t understand.
Several countries have a ban or at least some type of regulation on gene editing in human embryos, although as the use of CRISPR speeds up in the lab, regulations, and viewpoints continue to evolve as well. Earlier this year, the US National Academy of Sciences said that editing the DNA of human embryos could be allowed in order to cure disease, with certain safeguards in place; and scientists are going ahead.
According to Motherboard, teams in China have edited human embryos at least three times, and earlier this year, a Chinese team reported another first: using CRISPR to correct genetic mutations in three normal human embryos. (Previous tests were done on non-viable embryos that couldn’t have produced children. According toTechnology Review, the US experiment destroyed embryos after a few days, with no intention to implant them.) Scientists in the US watched developments in China “with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm,” Technology Review reported.
It looks like Americans were more than eager to try CRISPR for themselves. And the creation of a gene-modified human could happen anytime. Hopefully, scientists will use the technology for the greater good and actually cure viruses and illnesses rather than to create perfect humans in jars.
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