Chinese researchers startle world, announcing embryonic gene editing

Chinese researchers startle world, announcing embryonic gene editing

Chinese Scientists claim to have made a breakthrough in modifying the genetic structure of human embryos.

Yet another controversy emerges from China, this time in the field of science and technology, with reports from a team of Chinese scientists that they have made a breakthrough in ‘editing’ the genetic structure of human embryos permanently.

In what is one of the most controversial and hotly-debated topics in genetic engineering today, scientists and ethicists have long been arguing on the pros and cons of modifying certain genetic elements permanently, which could have a lasting effect on future generations.

The technical name for this technique is ‘CRISPR-Cas9’ and it makes a provision for the addition or deletion to human DNA on a molecular level, which permanently modifies the DNA, and the changes can be potentially passed down to future generations.

CRISPR-Cas9 is not a new concept, but by applying this technology to human embryos, it is believed by experts to be the first time that it has been attempted. The new experiment was reported recently in the scientific journal Protein & Cell which gives details of attempts to apply this technique to 86 embryos acquired from a fertilization clinic. However, in that particular experiment, the results were unsuccessful, classified as what scientists call “off-target”.

There is a strong argument against using this kind of technology where alterations are made to ‘germ-line of cells’. The main concern is that babies born through this technique could end up having genetic modification without any legal consent. It could result in new-age designer babies with features of star models, modifications being carried out without any medical relevance.

In response to the announcement by the Chinese scientists, the International Society for Stem Cell Research in the U.S. has called for a moratorium on” attempts at human clinical germ-line genome editing while extensive scientific analysis of the potential risks is conducted, along with broad public discussion of the societal and ethical implications.”

The Chinese researchers were not available for comment when attempts were made to contact them on Thursday.



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