Scientists from Oregon Health and Science University, US for first time have successfully edited genes of human embryos to correct defective DNA that cause inherited diseases.
They had used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos, which allows specific sections of DNA to be altered or replaced.
In this experiment, scientists had used sperm donated from men who carried inherited disease mutations to demonstrate that the genes can be corrected. The one-celled embryos were created in the experiment, were never intended to be implanted into a womb and were only allowed to develop for a few days.
They had used a process called “germline engineering” in which genetically modified organisms pass changes to their offspring to eradicate inherited disease. It allowed so-called permanent germline changes to pass down to any offspring.
The research holds great potential to avoid many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of “designer babies”. It is also considered as a milestone in journey for giving birth to the first genetically modified humans.
CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology
CRISPR short form of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It allows scientists to selectively edit genome parts and replace them with new DNA stretches. CRISPR is a collection of DNA sequences that direct Cas9 where to cut and paste. Cas9 is an enzyme that can edit DNA, allowing the alteration of genetic patterns by genome modification. CRISPR-Cas9 technology has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of blood diseases, tumours and other genetic diseases.