Changing the Code: The advent of human genome editing

September 23, 2015

In April this year, scientists led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, reported editing the human genome in the online journal Protein & Cell. It marked a controversial breakthrough in genetic biology and is being vigorously debated by the international community. “I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Last week the UK’s Francis Crick Institute in London put forth its own application to edit the human embryonic genome. If the request is approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), it would be the world’s first national regulating body to do so. HFEA has a global reputation for careful but progressive regulation of human-embryo work. It is currently illegal in the UK to edit or manipulate the genes of a human embryo.

Dr Huang’s team reported gene modification targeting a specific genetic blood disorder. At the Crick, Kathy Niakan, a researcher at the institute, would like to  study the more basic questions about human embryonic development. Niakan hopes that she and her team’s work could provide “fundamental insights into early human development.”

For the entire article, and several links therein regarding the work done in China, click here.

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