Scientists in the US have released a paper showing that they have successfully edited human embryos to correct a mutation that causes an inheritable heart condition. The findings are hugely important as they demonstrate for the first time that the technology may one day be used safely to edit out many devastating diseases.
But how close to curing genetic diseases does the new study actually take us? And how concerned should we be about the ethical implications of the technology?
The genome editing tool used, CRISPR-Cas9, has transformed the field of biology in the short time since its discovery in that it not only promises, but delivers. CRISPR has surpassed all previous efforts to engineer cells and alter genomes at a fraction of the time and cost.
The technology, which works like molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, is a natural defence system that bacteria use to fend off harmful infections. This system has the ability to recognise invading virus DNA, cut it and integrate this cut sequence into its own genome – allowing the bacterium to render itself immune to future infections of viruses with similar DNA. It is this ability to recognise and cut DNA that has allowed scientists to use it to target and edit specific DNA regions.
Source: Scientists edit human embryos to safely remove disease for the first time – here’s how they did it