A team of U.S. researchers for the first time ever edited human embryo DNA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Tech Review revealed Wednesday.
Oregon Health and Science University scientists changed the DNA of single-celled human embryos using a gene-editing technique called CRISPR, according to anonymous people familiar with the procedures.
“It is proof of principle that it can work,” an anonymous scientist familiar with the project told MIT.
“They significantly reduced mosaicism [a state where an embryo has two different types of cells with different genetic sequences],” the source said. “I don’t think it’s the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before.”
This is not the first time in the world this gene-editing technique has been used. Chinese scientists claim to have edited the genes of human embryos using CRISPR on three separate occasions.
Oregon researchers used embryos created for the experiment with sperm donated by men carrying inherited diseases. The Tech Review could not determine which disease genes researchers chose for editing.
None of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days, and researchers claim they never had intention of implanting them into a womb. If such a genetically modified child were born, they would pass on the edited changes in their DNA to subsequent generations.
Critics say these type of experiments could create genetically engineered “designer babies” who would be inherently better than conventional human children. A range of religious organizations, civil society groups and the government all oppose the idea. The U.S. intelligence community said last year that the CRISPR editing technique was a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a report in February that was widely seen as giving the go-ahead for lab research on this type of human genetic modification.
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