Scientists given the go-ahead to genetically alter human embryos

By Lindsay de Freitas
03 February 2016

The controversial research project has been met with widespread resistance by scientists who fear that the genetic editing of embryos could open the door to science 'irrevocably altering the human species'.

For the first time in history scientists will be allowed to genetically modify human embryos. Researchers will be allowed to genetically edit embryos in an attempt to find out more about what causes miscarriages. In a landmark ruling the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has allowed a group of scientists to genetically alter the DNA of human embryos. The genetic editing will be done using embryos donated by couples who have undergone IVF treatment and have a surplus. Research will take place during the first seven days after fertilisation and will be led by Dr Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist who has spent a decade researching human development.

The experiment will focus on the time during which the fertilised egg (which is a single cell) develops from a single cell to a blastocyst (made up of about 250 cells) and shed light on what occurs immediately fertilisation. "We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby,” explains Kathy Niakin of her decision to embark on the ground-breaking research project. "The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they're not very well understood." The procedure will focus on the DNA of embryos and will switch certain genes off and on in a bid to find out how the genetic make-up of an embryo determines its successful development.

Although the ruling has approved the research it will be illegal for the scientists to implant the modified embryos into a woman, and modified embryos must be destroyed after seven days.


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