For the first time, a team of scientists used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to study the human embryo and its evolution and development. Generally, the technology is used as an attempt of ‘fixing disease-causing mutation’.
The study team used CRISPR/Cas9 to ‘turn off’ the production of one particular gene, known as the OCT4. This is considered to be an essential element in the development of the embryo.
Turning Off a Gene and The Changes it Brough to the Human Embryo
Researchers usually conduct such studies on mice embryos. However, this latest study points out the differences, key ones, in between the role of this particular gene in human versus mouse embryos.
The research team used a total of 58 human embryos for its study. These were the result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments generated in fertility clinics. No longer needed, they were donated for research.
In a first time ever, the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority granted the researchers permission to use human embryos in their study involving gene editing.
The team injected the molecular machinery required by CRISPR while the zygotes or fertilized eggs consisted solely of one cell. Then, they started tracking their development in the lab over a period of a week.
Half of the zygotes in the control group developed normally to form blastocysts or multicellular embryos. Among the OCT4 disrupted levels group, only a reported 19 percent made it to the blastocyst stage.
Through this experiment, the team demonstrated the relation between an embryo’s development and the OCT4. However, more studies will be needed to precisely establish the role of this gene.
Also, the researchers note that “We conclude that CRISPR–Cas9-mediated genome editing is a powerful method for investigating gene function in the context of human development.”
Detailed study findings were presented in a paper released in the journal Nature earlier this week.
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