Featured photo courtesy stsc3000.github.io
Well, They’ve Gone Ahead And Done It! China Edits Genome Of Human Embryos, Observes Unintended Consequences
Drop a pebble from the top of a mountain and it can very likely become an avalanche.
Many biotech companies are trying to engineer more human-like animals for their commercial drug testing because it is supposed to shorten the time to market for the commercially viable licenses.
A few Chinese scientists have decided to try skip that whole process altogether. Who needs human-like chimpanzees when you can manufacture human-like, err… humans.
Note that the scientists in question ran into major hurdles right out of the gate, and admitted it, but you can rest assured that the biotech world sat up and took notice on this one!
This is probably the opening of a gate that will be very hard to close. Que the BladeRunner music…
Read more below:
Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos
Rumours of germline modification prove true — and look set to reignite an ethical debate.
In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. The results are published1 in the online journal Protein & Cell and confirm widespread rumours that such experiments had been conducted — rumours that sparked a high-profile debate last month2, 3 about the ethical implications of such work.
Some say that gene editing in embryos could have a bright future because it could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born. Others say that such work crosses an ethical line: researchers warned in Nature2 in March that because the genetic changes to embryos, known as germline modification, are heritable, they could have an unpredictable effect on future generations. Researchers have also expressed concerns that any gene-editing research on human embryos could be a slippery slope towards unsafe or unethical uses of the technique.
The paper by Huang’s team looks set to reignite the debate on human-embryo editing — and there are reports that other groups in China are also experimenting on human embryos.
The team injected 86 embryos and then waited 48 hours, enough time for the CRISPR/Cas9 system and the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act — and for the embryos to grow to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang says. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”
Huang says that the paper was rejected by Nature and Science, in part because of ethical objections; both journals declined to comment on the claim. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its research editorial team.)
The debate over human embryo editing is sure to continue for some time, however. CRISPR/Cas9 is known for its ease of use and Lanphier fears that more scientists will now start to work towards improving on Huang’s paper. “The ubiquitous access to and simplicity of creating CRISPRs,” he says, “creates opportunities for scientists in any part of the world to do any kind of experiments they want.”
A Chinese source familiar with developments in the field said that at least four groups in China are pursuing gene editing in human embryos.