Scientists in Portland, Ore., just succeeded in creating the first genetically modified human embryo in the United States, according to Technology Review. A team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Science University is reported to “have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.”
The U.S. team’s results follow two trials — one last year and one in April — by researchers in China who injected genetically modified cells into cancer patients. The research teams used CRISPR, a new gene-editing system derived from bacteria that enables scientists to edit the DNA of living organisms.
The era of human gene editing has begun.
In the short term, scientists are planning clinical trials to use CRISPR to edit human genes linked to cystic fibrosis and other fatal hereditary conditions. But supporters of synthetic biology talk up huge potential long-term benefits. We could, they claim, potentially edit genes and build new ones to eradicate all hereditary diseases. With genetic alterations, we might be able to withstand anthrax attacks or epidemics of pneumonic plague. We might revive extinct species such as the woolly mammoth. We might design plants that are far more nutritious, hardy and delicious than what we have now.