UK Approves Editing of Human Embryo Genes
Scientists in Britain have been given permission to edit the genes of human embryos for research, using a technique that some fear could eventually be used to create "designer babies.”
Less than a year ago, scientists in China caused an international furor by saying they had genetically modified human embryos. Now Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London’s Francis Crick Institute, was granted a license by The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to carry out similar experiments.
David King, director of the UK campaign group Human Genetics Alert, sees this as the start down a slippery slope. He has called Niakan’s plans "the first step on a path … toward the legalization of GM [Genetically Modified] babies.”
Niakan says she has no intention of genetically altering embryos for use in human reproduction, but wants to deepen scientific understanding of how a healthy human embryo develops, something that could, in the long term, help to improve infertility treatments.
She first plans to target a gene called Oct4, which she believes may have a crucial role in the earliest stages of human fetal development.