There’s news in bioengineering every week, to be sure, but the big story this past week is one that’s sure to continue appearing in headlines for days, weeks, and months — if not years — to come. This story is CRISPR-Cas9, or CRISPR for short, the gene-editing technology that many geneticists are viewing as the wave of the future in terms of the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders.
Standing for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR offers the ability to cut a cell’s genome at a predetermined location and remove and replace genes at this location. As a result, if the location is one at which the genes code for a particular disease, these genes can be edited out and replaced with healthy ones. Obviously, the implications for this technology are enormous.
This week, it was reported that, for the first time, CRISPR was successfully used by scientists to edit the genomes of human embryos. As detailed in a paper published in Nature, these scientists edited the genomes of 50 single-cell embryos, which were subsequently allowed to undergo division until the three-day mark, at which point the multiple cells in the embryos were assessed to see whether the edits had been replicated in the new cells. In 72% of them, they had been.
In this particular case, the gene edited out was one for a type of congenital heart defect, and the embryos were created from the eggs of healthy women and the sperm of men carrying the gene for the defect. However, the experiments prove that the technology could now be applied in other disorders.
Needless to say, the coverage of this science story has been enormous, so here is a collection of links to coverage on the topic. Enjoy!
- First Human Embryos Edited in U.S. (MIT Technology Review)
- Yes, U.S. Scientists Edited an Embryo’s Genes, but Super-Babies Are a Ways Away (at Slate)
- The Best Science Is Often Accidental (Baltimore Sun)
- US Scientists Are Fixing Genetic Defects in Embryos. Should You Be Nervous? (PBS Newshour)