US Scientists edit genes of human embryos for the first time

Scientists have, for the first time in the US, edited the genes of human embryos, a controversial step that will one day help babies avoid inherited diseases.

According to MIT Technology Review, which first reported the news on Wednesday, the experiment was only an exercise in science - the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were not intended to be implanted into a womb.

According to officials at Oregon Health & Science University, the work took place there and results will soon be published in a journal. It is said to be the first such work in the US and previous experiments like this had been reported from China.

The Oregon scientists used a technique called CRISPR, that allows alteration of specific sections of DNA. According to experts, the technique was much more precise than some types of gene therapy that cannot ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended. Gene editing produces permanent changes that can be passed down to any offspring.

The approach held great potential for avoiding  many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of "designer babies" if done for other reasons such as producing desirable traits.

The experiment, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, used the technique CRISPR-Cas9. It went beyond previous experiments conducted in China using CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos, as it edited the genomes of many more embryos and targeted a gene associated with a significant human disease.

''This is the kind of research that is essential if we are to know if it's possible to safely and precisely make corrections'' in embryos' DNA to repair disease-causing genes,'' legal scholar and bioethicist R Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told statnews.com. ''While there will be time for the public to decide if they want to get rid of regulatory obstacles to these studies, I do not find them inherently unethical.''