Monday 26 September 2016

UK scientists apply for licence to genetically modify human embryo for the first time

Sarah-Jane Murphy

Published 18/09/2015 | 17:57

Chinese scientists claim to have carried out the world's first experiments to genetically engineer a human embryo Credit: ALAMY
Chinese scientists claim to have carried out the world's first experiments to genetically engineer a human embryo Credit: ALAMY

Scientists in the UK have asked for permission to genetically modify human embryos for the first time.

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Researchers at The Francis Crick Institute in London want to use a somewhat controversial genetic technique to carry out research into the complex area of infertility.

All embryos would be destroyed following the research and would not be not implanted into a host womb.

The UK's fertility watchdog confirmed it had received the application.

Under UK law it is illegal to use gene editing of embryos in IVF treatment, but it is permissible for research purposes, under a licence.

Scientists in China recently announced they had successfully modified human embryos earlier this year, prompting a public outcry.

The embryos were not planned for use in IVF, but there were concerns the advancement could open the door to a 'babies for order' situation.

The scientific technique used is called 'gene editing' and can make specific changes to DNA.

But any alterations would be passed on to future generations if the embryos were ever to be used in human reproduction.

The researchers want to use the technique to look at the earliest stages of human development, in the hope of better understanding why some women have miscarriages.

The application is the first of it's kind in the UK and will be considered by the fertility watchdog, but no decision is expected for some weeks or months.

Most scientists agree that genetic editing should not be used for reproductive purposes at present.

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