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UK scientists have edited human embryos for the first time

A key gene has been identified that helps determine the healthy development of human embryos

CNN  — 

The DNA of human embryos has been altered and studied for the first time in the UK, offering new insight into the early stages of human development.

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, a medical research center, have identified the role of a key gene that controls how embryos form during the first few days of development.

Understanding the biology behind these early stages could help in the discovery of ways to improve the success of in-vitro fertilization, offer some explanation into why some women experience miscarriage and offer general knowledge on how humans develop.

Studies in the United States have manipulated the genomes of embryos to help understand – and fix – gene mutations that lead to inherited diseases, such as heart conditions. But this is the first research to target human growth and development.

‘Switching off’ a crucial stage

Stopping a gene from working and exploring what happens when it’s gone is a good way to find out the gene’s purpose.

The team used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 to switch off a particular gene involved in embryo development, known as OCT4. Blocking the functioning of this gene means the resulting protein, also called OCT4, cannot be produced, eventually halting an embryo’s development. </