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Under the microscope: Germline gene editing

This month: Germline gene editing

What is germline gene editing?

Deliberately changing the genes that are passed on to children and future generations. In other words, creating genetically modified people. 


Is that legal?

It is widely considered off-limits, for both safety and ethical reasons, and is prohibited in more than 40 countries, including the UK.


Why is it in the news?

Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, have for the first time successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a common and serious disease-causing mutation.


What was the mutation?

In dozens of embryos, they fixed a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life. If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free, but also would not transmit the disease to descendants.


What happens now?

More research (and a change in the law) is needed before clinical trials.


What are the long-term implications?

Germline gene editing could one day be used for more than 10,000 conditions that are caused by specific inherited mutations.


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