Surely, it’s a tempting prospect to be able to change the genetic makeup of an embryo to give it enhanced traits but such practice is banned by the international scientific community for ethical reasons.
But Chinese genome-editing researcher, He Jiankui, says that he has successfully been able to disable the genetic pathway that would prevent HIV infection for two twins that were recently born.
Until now, the use of these tools in embryos has been limited to research, often to investigate the benefit of using the technology to eliminate disease-causing mutations from the human germ line. But some studies have reported off-target effects, raising significant safety concerns.
The germline was edited to block CCR5 so that HIV would not have an entry point to the cells. This was done to the embryo in vitro before they were implanted into the mother.
Of course, it received backlash from the scientific community the minute they heard about the news. Whether it would become a more acceptable practice with very stringent regulations all depends on the decision in a summit of various international researchers in the field which was held in Hong Kong from November 27 to 29.
What will be the future of genome editing? We don’t know yet but hopefully it can be of use in the future. Read more about it on Nature.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)