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Britain Gives A Go For Gene-Editing Among Human Embryos

Update Date: Feb 03, 2016 08:49 AM EST

The highly controversial human gene editing technology has just received a green signal from British health regulators in an effort to unearth more genetic secrets about human embryo development, making the UK one of the few countries allowing the experimental use of genome editing.

DNA-modification techniques have been on a progressive course for decades but altering human genetic makeup touches on a number of unresolved ethical questions. So far, most genetic researchers worldwide have opted to observe a voluntary moratorium on changing the DNA because of wide-ranging implications.

Despite existing controversies, UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority okayed a research application by a group of researchers headed by developmental biologist Kathy Niakan to determine and understand more the genetic fundamentals behind the development of human embryos in an effort to prevent fertility-related problems like miscarriage.

The scientists involved in the research project also hope that their findings may one day open the door for more significant breakthroughs in medicine such as vaccines for deadly infections like HIV-AIDS.

"Not only will it broaden scientific knowledge about the safety and feasibility of human gene editing, it will reduce barriers to more expansive thinking about human gene therapy applications," remarked Dr. Kyle Orwig of the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine as quoted saying by CBS News.

The genome editing technique being allowed to use by Niakan's team is called CRISPR-Cas9 which gives scientists the precise means to 'delete or add' genes to the DNA in the cells' nucleus according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

With such developments, genetically modified (GM) babies may become common in a not-so-distant future.

"This research will allow the scientists to refine the techniques for creating GM babies, and many of the government's scientific advisers have already decided that they are in favor of allowing that. So this is the first step in a well mapped-out process leading to GM babies, and a future of consumer eugenics," said director of Human Genetics Alert Dr. David King as mentioned in a news report by BBC.

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