A U.K. government agency just granted approval for scientists to genetically modify human embryos.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority gave scientists permission to use CRISPR-CAS9 to alter embryo DNA within the first seven days following fertilization, the Independent reports. CRISPR is a fairly new gene-editing technology, invented three years ago, that was named 2015’s Breakthrough of the Year by Science. It allows scientists to pinpoint and cut out bits of DNA from live cells.
This technology will help researchers discover how different fragments of DNA contribute to an embryo’s growth and behavior, which could provide insight into the causes of miscarriage and significantly improve success rates of IVF.
The research will be conducted using excess embryos from IVF treatments which would otherwise be destroyed. Women would be required to provide consent for their embryos to be used for that purpose, and it remains illegal for the altered embryos to be implanted into a woman. Though the HFEA granted its approval, scientists still await authorization from an ethics panel, which could arrive as soon as March.