China shocks world by genetically engineering human embryos
Published 23/04/2015 | 17:10
China has been ordered to ‘rein in’ scientists who have edited the DNA of human embryos for the first time, a practice banned in Europe.
In a world’s first, researchers at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou confirmed they had engineered embryos to modify the gene responsible for the fatal blood disorder thalassaemia.
The team, led by Junjiu Huang attempted to head off fears of eugenics by claiming the embyos were ‘non-viable’ and could never had become babies.
But critics warned that China was becoming the ‘Wild West’ of genetic research saying it was the first step towards designer children and called for a worldwide ban on the practice.
The work was reported in the journal Protein and Cell after the prestigious science journals Nature and Science refused to publish the study on ethical grounds.
"This news emphasises the need for an immediate global ban on the creation of GM designer babies,” said Human Genetics Alert Director, Dr David King.
“It is critical that we avoid a eugenic future in which the rich can buy themselves a baby with built-in genetic advantages."
“It is entirely unnecessary since there are already many ethical ways to avoid thalassaemia. This research is a classic example of scientific careerism - assuring one's place in the history books even though the research is unnecessary and unethical."
Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material.
At least four groups in China are believed to be currently working on genetically modifying human embryos.
A spokesman for the journal Science recommended that steps be taken to "strongly discourage, even in those countries with lax jurisdictions where it might be permitted, any attempts at germ-line genome modification for clinical application in humans.”