Genetically modified Human Embryo: What’s the Truth?

Written by Rafia Hassan

Few months ago, waved across the scientific community that some scientists are trying to modify human genetic material at embryo level. What was the truth behind it? Has something happened like this? Yes! This has actually been done. A group of scientists from Sun-Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou China under the supervision of Junjiu Huang claimed that they have performed a successful experiment on human embryo. A research paper was published in Journal Protein and Cell on 18 April 2015 revealing that how the Chinese scientists genetically modified human embryo.

Chinese scientists used a technique of gene editing called “CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat” to remove the diseased gene sequence. This experimentation was done on the 86 embryos collected from IVF clinics (in vitro fertilization) after endorsing that these are “non-viable” embryos and cannot result into a live birth. These embryos had the diseased gene of fatal blood disorder Beta thalassaemia. Scientists attempted to modify the diseased gene by using the technique CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers said that they faced the serious complications and hurdles in the medical application of the method.

Scientists attempted to inject 86 embryos and kept them for 48 hours, because it was the enough time for embryos to grow into 8 cells each and for CRISPR/Cas9 system to complete its work by replacing the missing DNA. 54 embryos were genetically tested out of 71 surviving embryos, revealing that only 28 gave the expecting results, from them only a little fraction contained the required genetic material. Huang commented on this that “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to close to 100%, that’s why we stopped, and we still think that its immature”.

George Daley, a stem cell biologist at Harvard medical school Boston, said that “I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale” He further commented that “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes”

Two famous and high impact Journals “NATURE” and “SCIENCE” rejected to publish that paper because it is going to create a great controversy and has ignited a big ethical debate in the scientific world. Till now most of the scientists rejected this technique because it is against ethical laws. Some scientists who write in “NATURE” have grave concern and they said that genetic modification of human embryos requires a global moratorium.

If we talk in support of modifying human embryos, it’s a good technique to eradicate many genetic and inherited diseases. Another advantage is to understand and cope with the risks at embryo level. Use of this technology can bring a revolution in the genetic world by eradicating many gene disorders.

But, supporting this technique means to reject all ethical laws. There is a big risk of unexpected result and it may result into some new type of genetic disorder which will never have a cure. Huang itself pointed out that after experimentation that he and his team also found a number of surprising mutations which were introduced by CRISPR/Cas9 system’s actions on other parts of the genome. Genetic modification of human embryos is unethical according to both law and religion. This is unethical and will always be unethical, because the resulting human may have such type of characteristic which will not only affect that person but also the whole society. Their children and their children’s children and so on to the generations will suffer.

Science must be used for the welfare of mankind, not for the creation of new problems. Genetic modification at the embryo level and attempts to genetically modify humans is interference in the laws of nature. Scientists should stop such experiments.

The rule must be “science for humanity’ not ‘Humanity for science”.





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About the author

Rafia Hassan