While scientists in China have used the same technology to genetically modify human embryos, this is believed to be the first attempt in the U.S.
The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, the report which was released Wednesday said. The fear is that it can lead to manipulating the human genome at will-not only to correct genetic defects, but to enhance certain human characteristics, such as athleticism and intelligence, and remove those viewed as undesirable. "I don't think it's the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before", an unnamed scientist told the MIT Technology Review. Until the numbers are published, it will not be clear to what extent this reduced mosaicism.
Reached by Skype, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication.
The Oregon group managed to avoid that problem by injecting CRISPR segments - DNA segments used to cut out unwanted genes - and sperm cells into the eggs at the same time.
Experiments are in the works now in the US using gene-edited cells to try to treat people with various diseases, but "in order to really have a cure, you want to get this at the embryo stage", he said.
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It is not right to take such action without passing any notice or conducting any enquiry, ' adding, "other parties are with us". And unable to understand why this happened, as I did not prevent them from raising any issue.
But critics of the CRISPR technology say it could open the door to the world of designer babies - where parents can select for specific traits in their child.
The U.S. intelligence community past year called CRISPR a potential "weapon of mass destruction". With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring.
One prominent genetics expert, Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said gene editing of embryos is "an unstoppable, inevitable science, and this is more proof it can be done".
Don't expect a new generation of gene-edited people in the U.S., though: Any local efforts to turn edited IVF embryos into babies have, so far, been blocked by Congress.
Despite such barriers, the creation of a gene-edited person could be attempted at any moment, including by IVF clinics operating facilities in countries where there are no such legal restrictions.