What everyone should know about cut-and-paste genetics

Odling-Smee et al in Nature:

CrisprThe ethics of human-genome editing is in the spotlight again as a large international meeting on the topic is poised to kick off in Washington DC. Ahead of the summit, which is being jointly organized by the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society and held on 1–3 December, we bring you seven key genome-editing facts.

1. Just one published study describes genome editing of human germ cells.

In April, a group led by Junjiu Huang at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, described their use of the popular CRISPR–Cas9 technology to edit the genomes of human embryos. Only weeks before the researchers’ paper appeared in Protein & Cell1, rumours about the work had prompted fresh debate over the ethics of tinkering with the genomes of human eggs, sperm or embryos, known collectively as germ cells. Huang and colleagues used non-viable embryos, which could not result in a live birth. But in principle, edits to germ cells could be passed to future generations.

2. The law on editing human germ cells varies wildly across the world.

Germany strictly limits experimentation on human embryos, and violations can be a criminal offence. By contrast, in China, Japan, Ireland and India, only unenforceable guidelines restrict genome editing in human embryos. Many researchers long for international guidelines, and some hope that the upcoming summit in Washington DC could be the start of the process to create them.

3. You don’t have to be a pro to hack genomes.

The CRISPR–Cas9 technology has made modifying DNA so cheap and easy that amateur biologists working in converted garages or community laboratories are starting to dabble.

More here.