Biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov at Oregon Health & Science University has taken an apparently huge step in the revolutionary gene editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, according to a report by MIT Technology Review. The team has successfully edited viable human embryos with seemingly few mistakes, the report suggests, though details are scant and have yet to be published. These experiments would go further than previous efforts to edit human genes using the technique, which have been conducted in China. The team reportedly used donated sperm to fertilize one-cell human embryos and targeted a gene associated with a “significant” as-yet-unnamed human disease. The embryos were not developed beyond a few days.
The technique has been hailed as revolutionary in that it could potentially help eradicate genetic diseases in babies via editing their genome at the germline. But it’s been extremely controversial too, with many scientists warning about its dangerous potential. Last year, an unclassified U.S. intelligence report listed genome editing as a potential Weapon of Mass Destruction alongside North Korea developing WMD-Applicable capabilities and chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq.
The ground-breaking technique was pioneered by biologist Jennifer Doudna, who, in a recent book on the subject admitted that she wrestles with the ethical concerns of gene editing, wrote that she once dreamed of Hitler, asking herself, “had I created a monster?”
Dr. Mitalipov declined to comment for Technology Review’s story, but it’s likely that the results of his study will be published and more details will be forthcoming.