Recently, reports of the first human embryo edited by U.S. scientists aired around the world. MIT Tech Review reported that scientists residing in Portland, Oregon, U.S. made the first ever attempt at creating a series of genetically modified Human embryo.
The research was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Sciences University. They pulled off change in the DNA of a large group of 1 cell human embryos by using the gene editing technology, CRISPR.
Only three other reports of editing of human embryo have surfaced over the years, all of which were published by scientists residing in China.
Mitalipov’s discovery is, however, unique because it holds the record of highest number of modified embryos along with demonstrating the possibility of modification of defective or disease causing genes quite effectively and efficiently.
The embryos experimented upon were not given time to further develop except for a few days since the eggs were not intended upon to be implanted in the womb. The research has been presented only as a milestone upon which further research will be based in the future as the first step in the journey to create the first genetically modified individuals.
By genetic modification of the human embryo, there’s hope of completely eradicating inherited diseases like blood condition beta-thalassemia, breast cancer, and much more.
This kind of study has been dubbed “Germline Engineering” and the genetically modified child can pass on the modification to his/her progeny through the germ cells; the egg and sperms.
The research has been met with bitter resentment by religious groups, civil society organizations and Biotech companies for ethical and moral reasons. They refuse to accept the “Designer babies” that will be programmed as the carriers of genetic advancements into the world.
Even the U.S. Intelligence Agencies have accused CRISPR as a potential weapon of mass destruction.
The Chinese publications while dealing with CRISPR were met with the phenomenon of mosaicism but Mitalipov’s research has shown that mosaicism and “off target shooting” both can be avoided and presents CRISPR as a future alternative in germline engineering.
Will we ever be able to move past the dilemma and see whether winter soldiers might be real or not, only time will tell. For now, sit tight and hope for the best.