For the first time, scientists in London have been granted permission to edit the genomes of human embryos for research purposes. This comes after some groups have asked for a global ban on the technique that the scientists may use. How will this affect future generations of your family?
An organization in the UK called Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted permission to a group of scientists in London to edit the genomes of human embryos. More specifically, HFEA has approved of an application by developmental biologist Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute in London to use the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique in healthy human embryos.
The researchers plan to alter genes that are active in the embryos in the first few days after conception. The experiment will be stopped after seven days. Those embryos will be destroyed after seven days. The embryos that are involved in the experiment have been donated to science.
In short, genealogists need not worry that future generations of their family tree will have descended from any of the embryos used in the research. The embryos in the experiment will never be implanted into a woman.
The first experiment will involve the blocking of a gene that functions as a “master regulator”. It is called OCT4. That gene is active in cells within the embryo that go on to form the developing fetus. The team of researchers will end its test tube experiments within a week after fertilization. The embryos would still be in the blastocyst stage at that time, and would contain around 64 to 256 cells.
Previous to the permission given to the scientists in London, there were scientists in China that were working with the CRISPR-Cas9 technique. Those scientists announced that they had carried out gene editing in human embryos to correct a gene that causes a blood disorder.
What will the scientists in London be doing? They are attempting to gain a better understanding of the genes that a human embryo needs to develop into a healthy baby. One of the reasons their research is important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common. Yet, the reasons why that happens is not very well understood.
There is the possibility that research conducted by the scientists in London, or by other scientists who may also seek permission to use CRISPR-Cas9 on human embryos, could learn something that could help prevent miscarriages, or that could assist infertile couples who want to become pregnant. If so, then it might be possible that the discoveries made by these scientists could help ensure that your genetic family line continues.
Image by Zappy’s Technology Solutions on Flickr.
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