Scientists bid to create GM embryos

Published: Thursday 23rd April 2015 by The News Editor

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A first attempt to create genetically modified (GM) human embryos has been made by Chinese scientists in a move that has prompted a call for a worldwide ban on the creation of “designer babies”.

The researchers used a molecular cut and paste technique to edit DNA at specific locations in order to remove and replace a problem gene.

Their aim was to modify the gene responsible for beta-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal inherited blood disorder.

But the experiment, conducted on “non-viable” human embryos, proved unsuccessful. Of 86 embryos treated, only 28 were spliced and a fraction of those were found to contain the replacement genetic material.

Nevertheless, the research published in the online journal Protein & Cell, is hugely controversial because it crosses what for many is a scientific red line.

Commenting on the development, Dr David King, director of the watchdog group Genetics Alert, said: “This news emphasises the need for an immediate global ban on the creation of GM designer babies.

“It is critical that we avoid a eugenic future in which the rich can buy themselves a baby with built-in genetic advantages. If China does not want to get the reputation of being the wild west of the new eugenics it must join the many countries including the UK which would ban such research.”

Details of the research were brought to mainstream attention by the journal Nature in an online news article.

It quoted lead scientist Dr Junjiu Huang, from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, saying: “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%. That’s why we stopped. We think it’s too immature.”

Published: Thursday 23rd April 2015 by The News Editor

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