New Evidence Shows Editing Human Embryos Wreaks Havoc on DNA
Three papers suggest it might not be safe to make gene-edited babies with CRISPR
Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
A few weeks ago, OneZero reported new findings from a group of U.K. scientists showing that the gene-editing tool CRISPR could cause unintended DNA damage when used in human embryos. The results raised serious concerns about the safety of creating gene-edited babies.
Now there’s even more evidence that CRISPR can cause unwanted genetic mutations in embryos. After our story was published on June 16, two U.S. groups uploaded papers with similar findings to the preprint server bioRxiv. The three papers have not yet been peer-reviewed, but together, they suggest that CRISPR isn’t yet safe enough to be used in human embryos in order to prevent genetic diseases.
“This isn’t even a stop sign at this point, this is a biohazard sign the size of a football field in front of embryo editing,” says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing expert and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in any of the three papers.
In each of the studies, researchers aimed to edit a single gene in human embryos. But each team found that CRISPR didn’t just snip out the gene it was supposed to; it inadvertently made edits elsewhere in the genome, as well. Gene-editing experts who weren’t involved in the papers say that unintended DNA edits could potentially cause birth defects, cancer, or other health problems in babies born as a result of embryo editing.
Scientists Edited Human Embryos in the Lab, and It Was a Disaster
The experiment raises major safety concerns for gene-edited babies
In the first paper, posted to bioRxiv on June 5, developmental biologist Kathy Niakan and her team at the Francis Crick Institute in London successfully deleted a gene involved in embryo development called POU5F1. But the findings show that…