The science of giving birth to babies created through a genetically modified embryo is not a common phenomenon. In fact, scientists had avoided in experimenting under the field due to a slew of disagreements involving it being unethical in nature. Surprisingly, for the first time ever, a group of researchers have accomplished moderate scientific success in modifying the genes.
In a study by published by Protein & Cell, a group of scientists at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China have developed the first ever genetically edited human embryos. Although their have been rumors about this experiment already been conducted, but until now, there has not been any official scientific documentation to authenticate it. With this latest study, it has been made official now.
In order to develop this, the researchers employed a technique known as CRISPR, which searches for the genes that cause genetically-inherited diseases. The whole procedure requires injecting embryos with the enzyme complex CRISPR/Cas9, which joins DNA at particular locations. This structure can be programmed to aim troublesome genes and supersede them with various molecules, which in turn neutralizes before a person is born. The technique has been substantiated in adult human cells and animal embryos, but this is the first published study that involves human embryos.
In the study, the researchers were experimenting to modify a gene called HBB, which converts a protein whose alterations can sometimes lead to a deadly blood disorder. To cure it, the researchers employed CRISPR technique to modify the gene’s molecular complex, however, the procedure couldn’t attain all round success.
The CRISPR technique missed its target and modified the wrong sections of DNA on few of the embryos. The experiment involved 86 embryos, out of which only 71 made it through the procedure, and DNA was successfully joined in merely 28 of them, many of which contained new and unplanned genetic content.
The criteria of this experiment is troublesome, because unintentional actions could also give rise to unforeseen disorders, which might also have disastrous implication on the upcoming generations. In the aforementioned case, there was no plan to allow the embryos to persist on development. The embryos were particularly for experimentation, and were conducted to cease growing at an early stage itself.
All being said, the experiment is definitely a major technical breakthrough, but the experiment-like gene modification is not yet ready for real-world application. The lead researcher, Jinjiu Huang, said, “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%, That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature,” he said.
Even though the results are close to satisfaction, but we still need more time and experience in order to apply them in the real-world cases.