In DepthBioethics

Embryo engineering study splits scientific community

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Science  01 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6234, pp. 486-487
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6234.486

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On 18 April, a Chinese team published the first-ever report on genetically altered human embryos. It ignited a firestorm of controversy and exposed a rift in the scientific community. Researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou reported how they attempted to use the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a new gene-editing technology, to modify the gene that causes the blood disorder beta thalassemia in abnormal human embryos rejected for in vitro fertilization use. They had minimal success altering the gene and said the technique is not yet ready for clinical use. Although approved by an ethics review board, the research set off alarms. Scientists agree there should be a moratorium on clinical use of genome editing at present. But some also want a moratorium on fundamental experiments; others are equally adamant that basic research using human embryos is scientifically and ethically justifiable.