Another attempt at the controversial genetic modification of the human embryo has been reported by Chinese scientists. The previous procedure took place one year ago when the same researchers managed to change a gene in the embryo.
At the moment, the team is working on the same procedure named CRISPR/Cas9, which is meant to make human embryos resistant to HIV. The news was released through a paper in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, which gave more details on the research. It appears that 45 non-viable but fertilized human eggs went through the technique. The scientists introduced CCR5 Δ32, a genetic mutation that occurs naturally, into the embryos. CCR5 Δ32 modifies T-cells, making them immune to HIV.
26 of the 45 embryos that were injected with RNA instructions when they were still in the one-cell stage developed beyond into eight-cell embryos. In the end, just four of them arrived at the desired mutation.
This type of genetic mutation poses many problems since it can also have unintended and long-lasting consequences. For instance, in this case, other mutations took place in other genome parts, both during the procedure that took place in 2015 and the current one.
According to development cell biology and biological chemistry professor Peter Donovan from the University of California,
“The good news is that the technique worked for this group in the same way that it did for the first group. This indicates the reproducibility of the science. However, this group of researchers also reproduced another finding described by the first group, namely that this type of gene editing also causes off-target effects.”
And thus, we arrive at the matter of ethics. Especially where human embryos genetic engineering is concerned, ethics were, are and will always be a great area of concern. Many people have linked it to the so-called “designer babies” from the controversial “Brave New World” written by Aldous Huxley. In this perspective, many scientists are starting to revolve towards the CRISPR/Cas9 technique.
Implanting such modified embryos in the womb of women remains an illegal procedure. As for the four embryos that evolved to the desired state, they were all destroyed, as well as the other 41.
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