The story appears on

Page A2

April 25, 2015

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Nation

Call to end Chinese gene research

SCIENTISTS around the world have renewed calls to halt controversial research to genetically edit human embryos after a Chinese team published details of a breakthrough attempt in this new frontier in science.

The paper by Huang Junjiu, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou, and colleagues appears in a little known online journal called Protein and Cell.

In it, researchers describe how they changed the genomes of embryos obtained from a fertility clinic.

The embryos could not have resulted in a live birth because they had an extra set of chromosomes after being fertilized by two sperm.

Researchers “attempted to modify the gene responsible for beta-thalassemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9,” said a report in Nature News.

The researchers injected 86 embryos and waited 48 hours for the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act.

Seventy-one embryos survived, and 54 of those were tested.

Researchers found that of those only 28 were “successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material,” the report said.

“If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100 percent,” Huang was quoted as saying. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

Even more concerning were the “surprising number” of unintended mutations that arose, at a rate far higher than seen in previous gene-editing studies using mice or adult human cells.

Such mutations can be harmful, and are a key reason for concerns raised in the scientific community ever since rumors of the Chinese team’s research began circulating earlier this year.

Critics say the science could have unknown effects on future generations and open the door to a new era of eugenics by altering humans.

The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine has renewed its call for a halt to the research.

“Given the significant safety and ethical implications of modifying the DNA of human reproductive (germline) cells, this research is highly premature,” said the international organization which represents more than 200 life-sciences companies, research institutions and advocacy groups.

“It is unacceptable to pursue this kind of research at this time. We are calling for a voluntary worldwide moratorium on this kind of research to allow for rigorous transparent legal and policy discussions and continued public debate regarding the science, safety and ethics of modifying human embryos.”

At least four other Chinese research teams are believed to be pursuing similar studies, the Nature News report said.

When rumors began circulating earlier this month about the impending publication of the study, some scientists began calling for a halt to the research, while others argued that basic research should continue, to see if it may one day help cure certain diseases and disorders.

Among those calling for a halt were Edward Lanphier, chief executive officer of US-based Sangamo BioSciences, and the International Society for Stem Cell Research.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend