Editing embryos, the British way

embrioni UK.docxThey are the first human embryos edited in Europe and reported in scientific literature. The key difference with experiments already carried out in China and US is that the research published by Nature last week doesn’t have embryonic gene therapy in view. The London Francis Crick’s Institute team, in fact, was not interested in correcting disease-causing mutations but in increasing knowledge on human embryonic development. We asked one of the authors, Alessandro Bertero, to explain goals and results. The Italian researcher was pursuing his Ph.D. at Cambridge when he helped to refine the technique used by Kathy Niakan and colleagues to edit the genome of embryos. He answered our questions via Skype from America, where he continues working on embryonic stem cells as a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University Continue reading

From the double helix to CRISPR: Watson updates his genetic revolution


Let’s read these letters: DNA. Who’s the first person who comes to your mind? The chances are high that you say James Watson, the politically incorrect half of the pair that in 1953 unveiled the double helix and the molecular basis of inheritance. It can be argued that this discovery opened the path leading to the invention of CRISPR sixty years later. The scientist who personifies one of the biggest turning points for human culture, now eighty-nine, has written what he thinks of the young technology for genome editing in the latest edition of “DNA. The Story of the Genetic Revolution “. The book, first published in 2003, has just been updated to cover the latest science and technology developments. Continue reading

Edited embryos. Why to say yes or no

embryo-mainThe exploit announced last week by Nature marks an advancement in CRISPR performance in human embryos big enough to say that yes, germ line editing will probably become a viable option sooner or later. It means that some genetic diseases (at least those caused by a single mutation) can be corrected not only in the treated individuals but also in their offspring. The idea of genetic diseases disappearing from the face of Earth is bound to remain a dream, as Eric Lander explained at the 2015 Washington Summit on Human Gene Editing. In short, with rare Mendelian diseases, the vast majority of situations can currently be addressed by in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, while complex diseases are, well, too complex to handle. Anyway, when you come to efficiency and accuracy, results achieved by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and colleagues are exciting: CRISPR science walks on robust and fast legs. As for the bioethics of the experiment, we should try not to get stuck with overused labels. Continue reading