For the first time ever, Chinese scientists report having successfully edited human embryos’ genomes. The breakthrough has, however, also revived heated debate about the ethical feasibility of such experiments, which are feared to lead to eugenics.
The 16-person team of researchers was based at the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, and led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher. They tried to find out if they could cure the gene defect that causes beta-thalassemia (a genetic blood disorder that could lead to severe anemia, poor growth, skeletal abnormalities and even death), by editing the germ line.
For that purpose they used a gene-editing technique based on injecting embryos with a complex, which consists of a protective DNA element obtained from bacteria and a specific protein.