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British Scientists Are Now Allowed to Edit the Genes of Human Embryos

But they're not yet allowed to implant those altered embryos into human women.

by Tom Usher
Feb 1 2016, 3:20pm

Flickr user Lunar Caustic

READ: China Is Engineering Genius Babies

Today, scientists in the UK were given the license to genetically modify human embryos for the first time in history.

Permission has been granted to alter the DNA of embryos in the first seven days of fertilization, but it still remains illegal to implant the modified embryo into a human woman. The license, granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, will allow scientists to better "understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby," according to lead researcher Dr. Kathy Niakan.

The technology used to edit genes is called Crispr-Cas9, and works by literally copying and pasting DNA using "molecular scissors." Scientists will use surplus embryos from IVF treatment which would have been destroyed anyway, and the women they belong to will have to give specific consent for them to be used for this research.

Professor Peter Braude, from King's College London, said: "Gene editing tools will allow fresh insights into the basic genetic mechanisms that control cell allocation in the early embryo. These mechanisms are crucial in ensuring healthy normal development and implantation, and when they go wrong might result in failure to implant or miscarriage."

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