Scientists Remove Genes from Human Embryo for First Time

first_imgStay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend While it’s easy to think that humans are knee-deep in the wilds of genetic engineering, but we’re actually only in its nascent stages with new milestones coming all the time.That said, a team of researchers has announced that they’ve used CRISPR on human embryos for the first time. Their work centers on OCT4, a specialized protein that codes for an important part of embryonic development. But, the real headline is that we’ve taken a new step, as a species, towards actively altering human genetic information while in development. CRISPR has been used in trials on living adults before, but it only targeted small parts of the body.This batch of experiments, however, was the first to slice up human embryonic DNA with the technique. Kathy Niakin, a developmental biologist based in London was the lead author on the paper. Her team used CRISPER to edit OCT4 in human zygotes — a stage of development that is, technically, pre-embryonic. These were all left over from in vitro treatments and donated by couples.The experiments, published this week in Nature, demonstrated that OCT4 plays a vital role in development. Without functioning copies of the gene, the developing embryos failed to develop some critical cell types, like placental cells, that are necessary for development.Again, that discovery, while cool, takes a back seat to the discovery that CRISPR works for studying early development. This could give us a new route to study everything from congenital diseases and birth defects, to how all of the intricate steps that create us actually happen. As Science Magazine notes, it’s also a great test for the UK’s new embryo research regulations.The new plans require any curious scientists to petition the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to get a license. Niakan sent in her application in 2015, detailing her plan and her intention to use CRISPR to study the role of OCT4 in development. And it looks like this went better than anyone could have hoped.“We conclude that CRISPR… is a powerful method for investigating gene function in the context of human development,” the paper declares. Like it or not, the future is here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img read more

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