Genetic editing of human embryos

by Alexey Bersenev on April 22, 2015 · 0 comments

in gene transfer

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As you may have heard today from Nature News, Chinese researchers recently reported the first data on using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique in human embryos. You can read study here (open access). The authors used “defective” tripronuclear zygotes, left over from IVF procedures. The study is short, but with a clear message – CRISPR/Cas9 human germline editing did not work the way it supposed to:

  • low efficiency of editing (~ 52%);
  • off-target genotoxicity;
  • unwanted mutagenesis;
  • genetic mosaicism.

To me, the study looks good and valuable. I did not find anything unethical in it. Nature News reported that the study was submitted to Science/ Nature and was rejected, partly because of “ethical reasons”. Too bad for Science and Nature! I wonder who are these “ethical guards of Science and Nature”, who set standards for submitted manuscripts? This study is historic and opens a new chapter in CRISPR-based genome editing research. The only puzzling thing about it at the moment is ultra-rapid peer-review = 1 day. It looks very suspicious.
Many commenters pointed out that this study is a signal to take actions toward moratorium on any human germline experiments with CRISPR (Yes, Sangamo’s guy and more). My response to it was voiced by wise Jen Doudna:

There’s no way to unlearn what is learned. We can’t put this technology to bed. If a person has basic knowledge of molecular biology they can do it. It’s not realistic to think we can block it. Same thing with regulations. To imagine that we could have international regulations, it’s just not realistic, and in any case, how do you enforce them? I wouldn’t feel comfortable hiding away in the lab. The better path is to try to be open and transparent and to educate people who want to understand it. It’s such a wonderful technology in many ways.

Also read good coverage by:
Carl Zimmer
Paul Knoepfler

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