Precise “Chemical surgery” has been performed on human embryos to remove disease in a world first, Chinese researchers have told the BBC. The team at Sun Yat-sen University used a technique called base editing to correct a single error out of the three billion “Letters” of our genetic code.
Base editing alters the fundamental building blocks of DNA: the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.
Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system.”
Base editing is an advance on a form of gene-editing known as Crispr, that is already revolutionising science. Base editing works on the DNA bases themselves to convert one into another. Prof David Liu, who pioneered base editing at Harvard University, describes the approach as “Chemical surgery”.
“So base editing has the potential to directly correct, or reproduce for research purposes, many pathogenic [mutations].”