Parallel Universes and the Many Possible Levels Within, Any Possibility of us Traveling There?

Many people believe that parallel universes exist and that somewhere out there in several places is another you carrying out a different task, completing a different day. Others think it’s purely a work of science fiction, but let’s think about it for a moment and consider if parallel universes do exist, is there ever any possibility of us traveling there?

There are many different kinds of parallel universes that are said to exist. One type is based on the idea that there’s another universe out there exactly like the one we are in now, with doppelgangers that represent us having made all the right choices along the way and effectively living the life we always dreamed of. Or instead, maybe it’s just a case of there being a kind of multiverse. Will we ever really know?

The cyclic, oscillating ekpyrotic model of the universe.

What if there was an infinite universe? Would this mean that somewhere out there is a wedge of space-time that is identical to the one we exist in? Or, are there some bubble universes out there that were created when the universe expanded so fast that pocket spacetimes broke off and became their own separate universes. Andrei Linde, a theoretical physicist at Standford University, says, “Every experiment that brings better credence to inflationary theory brings us much closer to hints that the multiverse is real.”

There are other possible parallel universes too. According to the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, we’re already living in a sea of infinite potential, but the chances of being able to visit one are probably nonexistent. Its physically impossible to travel fast enough to reach the far pockets of an infinite universe, so when we’re considering universes even further away, it’s not going to happen. So, rather than spend so much time worrying about what may be out there but we’ll never really know, why not concentrate on what’s tangible and that’s the Lilliputian dimension of our local spacetime.

The Advancement of Medicine and Where We Are Now

Like everything these days, the world of medicine is advancing at a phenomenal rate. Every day more and more specialized treatments and procedures are discovered that will hopefully change the world as we know it and allow people the chance to live a happy, healthy, normal life. Technology is now being used so much more in healthcare which makes the diagnosing of problems and the customization of treatment much easier for doctors.

If we go back just ten years, no one had a smartphone, and the wireless web was only in its very early stages, and wearable technology was simply unheard of. Now, these things are all around us in many aspects of our lives. In terms of healthcare, smartphones can now be enabled to check a user’s heart rate, count how many steps they take throughout the day, and monitor them during their sleeping hours. You can also get add-ons for smartphones that range from an otoscope that can diagnose ear infections and a stethoscope that can detect unusual heart rhythms.

Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and director at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and he says, “All these new tools give you the ability to basically quantify and digitize the medical essence of a human being. And since patients are generating most of this data themselves, because their smartphones are medicalized, then they take center stage instead of the doctor.” He believes that smartphones will continue to transform the healthcare industry as we once knew it and completely changed the role of the traditional doctor while doing so.Another area that’s relatively new in the world of healthcare is computational medicine. This is basically the practice of using computer models and special software to study the development of diseases. Dr. Raimond Winslow is director of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Computational Medicine commented, “Looking at disease through the lens of traditional biology is like trying to assemble a very complex jigsaw puzzle with a huge number of pieces. The result can be an incomplete picture. Computational medicine can help you see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give a more realistic picture.”

Computational medicine also includes using deep-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to mine information and Dr. Gunnar Ratcsh and team have been using these techniques to unravel some of the mysteries of cancer over the past few years. As a result, they were able to discover connections between patients symptoms and treatments that otherwise may have been missed. Others have used machine learning algorithms to track the development of diseases which allowed them to predict where and when viruses are most likely to spread.

Gene editing has also been a breakthrough within the healthcare industry within the last ten years, particularly thanks to CRISPR-Cas9. This technique was developed back in 2012 and since then has been used by various professionals across the globe. Biologist and biohacker, Josiah Zayner explains, “With CRISPR, if I want to do a new CRISPR experiment, I could go online, go to one of these DNA synthesis companies, order six months down to, well – some of these companies ship overnight now – so not only can you do 100 times as much research, you can do it 100 times faster than before.”


CRISPR has been used successfully several times including to engineer certain crops that immune to some fungal diseases and completely eradicating the HIV-1 virus from an infected mouse cell. The Chinese are looking to carry out the first ever human trials using the CRISPR-Cas9 method to treat a cancer patient. They will take white blood cells from the sick patient, edit them so they can attack cancer, and then pop them back into the patient’s body.

Since 1981, stem cells have been an important part of medicine, but it has been a fairly slow ride. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that scientists were able to isolate human embryonic stem cells and grow them in a laboratory. However, since then lots of breakthroughs have been made in the world of stem cells including being able to treat patients with spinal cord injuries as well as age-related macular degeneration. They are also being used for either treatment or research in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, hearing repair, learning disabilities, tooth regrowth and more.

Stem cells give scientists a way to regenerate tissue previously thought to be lost forever. (Credit: Juan Gärtner/123RF)
Stem cells give scientists a way to regenerate tissue previously thought to be lost forever. 

Optogenetics is another field that has come a long way over the past few years with thanks to the massive advancement of technologies. It has allowed scientists to learn more about how networks of neurons actually function. Technology has enabled scientists to see thought and emotions within the brain like never before. Now, using optogenetics they can switch individual neurons on or off using light and is a technique that is welcomed by many neurosurgeons around the world.

The cloud is the technology that is responsible for pulling all of this medical data together and allowing easy access for all. Dr. Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute says, “The real revolution doesn’t come from having your own secure, in-depth medical data warehouse on your smartphone. It comes from the cloud, where we can combine all our individual data. Once all our relevant data are tracked and machine-processed to spot the complex trends and interactions that no one could detect alone, we’ll be able to pre-empt many illnesses.”While all of these medical advancements are fantastic, not everyone is embracing them in the same way. One reason for this is because some of the new technologies are taking away certain roles for doctors, and they are losing out as a result. For example, there are now apps that can detect ear infections rather than a doctor, so people will feel less inclined to book an appointment when they can now self-diagnose at home.

But, times are changing, and we all need to accept it. Over the next decade, we are likely to see medicine become more predictive in nature and with the help of technology doctors will be able to pre-empt certain illnesses and supply customized treatment plans to their patients. More apps will be released to aid people to self-diagnose at home, while a different relationship will be formed between that of patient and doctor and will move to more of collaboration with the doctor rather than simply taking orders.

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CRISPR and Seven Big Science Stories We Might See in the Future

CRISPR is big news, and it will continue to be big news throughout 2017. Genetic engineering and gene editing technology make it possible to cure some diseases and illnesses by simply altering the person’s DNA. With the help of CRISPR/Cas9 technology researchers are able to snip individual genes, either deleting them all together or replacing them with new ones. As well as this CRISPR can also be used to make an RNA copy of a gene sequence, image the genome in living cells, or edit the epigenome, but it’s still early days, and this theory still needs to be proved. But scientists are very hopeful about the CRISPR technology and all the amazing things it could potentially bring. Keep reading for a rundown of just some of the ways CRISPR could change the world:

  • Identify potential Alzheimer’s treatments: A CRISPR-based platform has been developed by Martin Kampmann and the team at the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of California, San Francisco that’s able to identify controlling genes that drive certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Moving forward the goal is to uncover new strategies for developing more specialized treatments.
  • Reduce our reliance on petrochemicals: Over at the University of California-Riverside researchers have been studying how they can best use CRISPR to control a particular type of yeast that can turn sugar into hydrocarbons. The benefit in doing this is to eventually have engineered a yeast that can create some of the components needed for certain adhesives, polymers, and fragrances. But also, CRISPR-engineered yeast could act as a replacement for petrochemicals, cutting down our reliance on the harmful substances.
  • Work out the role of different genes: Scientists could tell us the CRISPR technology to knock out certain genes and monitor the effects this had afterward. This would help them gain a much deeper understanding of different genomes and their role within our bodies. One example of where CRISPR would be helpful is in regards to the resurrection plant. This plant goes into a state of near-death during times of drought, but when rain returns, the plant is revived. Researchers could use the CRISPR technology to see if they could use genetic editing to apply this technique to other plants.
  • Destroy viruses such as HIV, hepatitis, and herpes: Bryan Richard Cullen at Duke University Medical Center uses CRISPR to develop a vector that attacks DNA viruses in cultured cells. He says, “We hope to move these studies into animal models in the very near future to see if we can cure animals bearing, for example, an HPV-16 induced tumor, or with a high level (Hepatitis B) infection of their lives.”
  • Use plants to make drugs and vaccines: Using CRISPR to target and insert specific genes into plants is an excellent way to understand better how plants genes are regulated, how they repair DNA, and how they respond to foreign molecules. Research projects in the UK include those that are working on developing plants that could make human therapies and vaccines.
  • Develop new cancer treatments: A clinical trial has just been given the go ahead that will involve using CRISPR to modify the cells of 18 cancer patients to make them more efficient in fighting off the disease and destroying the cancerous cells. Others will be using CRISPR to make safer and more efficient treatments for tumors that are caused by errors in the DNA.
  • Engineer plants to improve food security: Plant geneticists are currently developing methods in which to use CRISPR to modify targeted plant genomes. The CRISPR technology may just help researchers understand how they can improve the rate of photosynthesis, increasing crop yields significantly.

**Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR, pronounced crisper) are segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short, repetitive base sequences. Each repetition is followed by short segments of spacer DNA from previous exposures to foreign DNA (e.g., a virus or plasmid). Small clusters of Cas (CRISPR-associated system) genes are located next to CRISPR sequences.

Will This New Discovery Lead to Better Treatments For Those in a Coma?

Scientists at Harvard University think they have uncovered a mystery involving consciousness that’s been baffling us for years. Researchers now believe they have managed to pinpoint three specific areas of the brain that appear to work as a network and are crucial for consciousness to exist. This could be a breakthrough in terms of finding new treatments for patients in a vegetative state and as well as give us a deeper understanding of the human race in general.

Michael Fox from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School is the lead researcher in the study and he says, “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness.”

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This image is an example of a “connectome” brain map of neural connections that includes the brainstem. 

Arousal and awareness are therefore the two critical components that make up consciousness. While arousal is likely to be regulated by the brainstem, awareness is a little harder to pin down. However, researchers have now located two specific cortex regions that they believe to form a part of our consciousness.

To get to this conclusion the team carried out a study on 36 patients with brainstem lesions (12 were unconscious, and 24 were conscious). Comparing the two types of patients’ brainstems, the researchers found that one particular area of the brainstem called the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum, was damaged in 10 out of 12 of the unconscious patients, but only 1 out of 24 of the conscious ones.

The team then dug a little deeper and discovered that there are in fact two areas of the cortex that link up to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum. To confirm the results further, the team cross-referenced this with scans of 45 more patients in an unconscious state, and it was found that all of them had a disruption to the network between the regions. This information will hopefully lead to better treatments for those in a coma or other unconscious state.

CRISPR Gene Editing Used to Treat Lung Cancer Treatment for First Time Ever

Researchers in China have made the headlines this month as they become the first ever to make changes to a human’s genetic code. To do this, they simply injected the patient with gene-edited cells using the CRISPR technique. This is the first time ever that CRISPR has been used in this way, and as controversial as it may be, it’s still a proud moment for China.

The patient received the treatment as part of a trial to try and treat lung cancer. The ten patients taking part in the trial have all been diagnosed with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer and have not responded to any standard treatment. They all also have a life expectancy of fewer than six months.

CRISPR is a great technique for gene editing that allows scientists to hone in on a single gene and repair it, amend it, or remove it. It’s something can be used in various areas ranging from agriculture to medicine, and this is just the beginning as far as China is concerned. The reason it hasn’t been used on any humans until now is purely down to ethics. But, Lu You and the team gained ethical approval to go ahead from West China Hospital’s review board.

China will continue to lead pave the way as far as CRISPR work is concerned, but the U.S. will soon be catching up as the first U.S. CRISPR trial is looking to be launched by the end of the year.

Soil and Plants Could Be the Answer to a New Greener Energy Source

The ecosystem decider 

Solar, the wind, and wave power are all very good sources of green energy. But now, scientists have just tapped into another possible source of energy. It’s one that may have been overlooked previously, but soil and plants could be the answer to a greener environment (excuse the pun). One company, Arkyne Technologies, has developed an innovative product called Bioo Lite and it’s a 25cm tall pot that uses plants to charge your phone (or other devices).

Dr. Marjolein Helder is heavily involved in the implementation of these DIY gardens, and she believes there is a huge potential to generate clean energy from plants and is an avenue we have been missing out on. Being CEO of Plant-e, her and her team launched Starry Sky two years ago, which is an energy project that powers Wi-Fi hotspots, cell phone chargers, and more than 300 LED streetlights.

The Bioo Lite is capable of charging mobile phones up to 3 times a day by using a USB charging port connected to the plant’s soil base.
The Bioo Lite is capable of charging mobile phones up to 3 times a day by using a USB charging port connected to the plant’s soil base.
Only needing sunlight, water and CO2 to work, PMFC technology appeals with its ability to generate electricity cleanly.
Only needing sunlight, water and CO2 to work, PMFC technology appeals with its ability to generate electricity cleanly.
Plant Microbial Fuel Cell technology involves the use of inert electrodes that form an electrical circuit and act as a battery once connected.
Plant Microbial Fuel Cell technology involves the use of inert electrodes that form an electrical circuit and act as a battery once connected.

So, what is it that is making Plant-e and Bioo Lite successful in acting as a charging device? It’s something called Plant-Microbial Fuel Cell (PMFC). This is what extracts the electricity that’s produced during photosynthesis from the living organism. This type of technology is very eco-friendly as requires only sunlight, water, and CO2 to work effectively and plans are already underway to be used to supply energy to buildings and houses. Places that have been targeted as being the most useful include rice fields, deltas, and salt marshes due to their waterlogged roots. Studies suggest that if all wetlands across the globe were used the energy that could potentially be harnessed could cover more than 60% of the whole world’s energy consumption.

Another fantastic feature about the PMFC technology is that it can run continually for hours on end. From Plant-e’s research, statistics suggest that with a surface area of just 50 square meters a ‘green roof’ could provide around a third of the electricity needed for the average household. On the larger end of the scale, one hectare of plants would be enough to power 28 homes for a whole year. And, this figure will only get better, too. As technology advances, so will the efficiency of the system.

Projections released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggest that by 2040 as much as 60% of the world’s installed capacity could be from that of zero-energy emission projects. And, with the help of PMFC and Plant-e, places that are abundant with wetlands but scare in electricity, could soon benefit no end.

Problems With Nuclear Membrane Could Play Part in Heart Disease, Leukemia, and Progeria

Researchers at Salk University have completed a study that’s revealed how the nucleus acts on its contents in order to influence gene expression. They discovered that nuclear core components regulate the expression of cell identity genes through the interaction with super-enhancers. Salk Professor, Martin Hetzer, comments “Our research shows that, far from being a passive enclosure as many biologists have thought, the nuclear membrane is an active regulatory structure.”

The team discovered two particular proteins are actively associated with the parts of DNA known to trigger the expression of genes. By better understanding the way in which these proteins function, scientists gain a better insight into diseases that are linked to dysfunctional nuclear membrane components including heart disease, leukemia and some aging disorders such as progeria. The first author of the paper and a Salk staff scientist, Arkaitz Ibarra said, “Discovering that key regulatory regions of the genome are positioned at nuclear pores was very unexpected.”

Salk scientists discover that nuclear pore components regulate the expression of cell identity genes through functional interactions with super-enhancers. In the image, a super-enhancer driven cell identity gene (red dot) localizes in close proximity to the nuclear envelope (green) in the nucleus of human primary lung fibroblasts (blue). Click here for a high-resolution image Credit: Salk Institute
Salk scientists discover that nuclear pore components regulate the expression of cell identity genes through functional interactions with super-enhancers. In the image, a super-enhancer driven cell identity gene (red dot) localizes in close proximity to the nuclear envelope (green) in the nucleus of human primary lung fibroblasts (blue).

Next, the team studied a human bone cancer cell line to see which areas of DNA interacted with nucleoporins. They pinpointed where two nucleoporins (Nup153 and Nup93) came in contact with the genome and looked into which genes were being affected and how. It was found that Nup153 and Nup93 both interacted with super-enhancers that are vital in determining cell identity and driving gene expression. Hetzer says, “People have thought the nuclear membrane is just a protective barrier, which is maybe the reason why it evolved in the first place. And it’s such an important area because so far, every membrane protein that has been studied and found to be mutated or mislocalized seems to cause a human disease.”

Viruses’ Fight One Another in their Own Biological WarFare

Viruses latch on to a cell, setting off a competition for a successful infection. 

Just like animals compete with one another throughout evolution, as suggested by Darwin’s theory, so do organisms. They may be tiny, but they can still do a lot of damage as they fight one another for resources and try to kill off any competition. The same goes for viruses as well. Some of these infect just a single species of bacteria, and many of them consist of genes that can stop the competition from infecting their host.

Viruses vary in just how much damage they can do. While some of them simply spread in their hosts soon after an infection, others are slightly more devious in the way they infect their victims. These will bury themselves deep into the host’s genome, keeping hidden for many generations. In doing this they’re able to infect far more people over a greater time period. But there are also disadvantages for the virus in doing things this way. One being that if they remain hidden for too long, another virus may just come along and destroy the host. It’s for that reason that researchers believe that viruses use some form of biological warfare to ward off future invaders.

To get to the bottom of this virus competition researchers set out to sequence various single bacterial specials samples. They discovered that many of these genomes had viruses integrated within them and a closer look at the genes revealed that they had a variety of means for destroying fellow viruses. One of these involved using certain elements from bacteria to protect themselves, while others had proteins that were able to stop any viruses from entering the cell or that stick to other viruses’ DNA to stop it from producing proteins. But, the system that was the most elaborate was where a virus called Phrann that encodes proteins to signal when there’s a shortage of amino acids. It then shuts down the bacteria’s metabolism until amino acid levels are back to how they should be. It also encodes a different protein that stops any manufacturing from taking place until a new virus comes along that it has to fight.

Scientists Have Found a New Form of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is an element that we’re all familiar with as it makes up around 75 percent of the Universe’s total mass and over 90 per cent of atoms. You would have thought that with their being so much hydrogen about we would already know all there is to know about it, but this month scientists have discovered something completely new as physicists from the University of Innsbruck, Austria has created a new form of hydrogen – negatively charged hydrogen clusters.

To better understand what negatively charged hydrogen clusters are, it may be easier first to understand what they’re opposite, positively charged hydrogen clusters, are. More commonly known as hydrogen ion clusters, they can contain as many as 100 different atoms and are formed at very low temperatures. These hydrogen ion clusters were first discovered around 40 years ago, but no one has been able to figure out just how to create one.

But this didn’t stop a team of physicists led by Michael Renzler. Their research consisted of first injecting cold liquid helium drops with hydrogen molecules which caused clusters to form. Next, they exposed these drops to an electron beam, causing ionization of some of the hydrogen molecules, and throwing them out as negatively charged hydrogen ions as a result. Even though these clusters only exist for some microseconds, that’s enough for the team to record the size and shape of them.

On closer scrutiny, the team found that the clusters only had odd atom numbers that ranged from n=5 to n=129. Also, the most stable of them had a central, negatively charged H-ion core that was surrounded by shells containing more hydrogen molecules. Michael Schirber of the American Physical Society, said, “The odd values implied that the clusters were a combination of several H2 molecules and a single H-ion core, held together through an induced dipole attraction.” Some of the most commonly recorded clusters were classed as magic numbers and were almost all solid arrangements of H2 molecules.  Moving forward this could help scientists identify negatively charged hydrogen clusters more easily in nature.

Embryo editing sparks epic debate

In wake of paper describing genetic modification of human embryos, scientists disagree about ethics.

Human embryos are at the centre of a debate over the ethics of gene editing.

In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported that they have used powerful gene-editing techniques to modify human embryos. Their paper1, published in the Beijing-based journal Protein & Cell on 18 April, came as no surprise to the scientific community, but it has ignited a wide-ranging debate about what types of gene-editing research are ethical. The publication also raises questions about the appropriate way to publish such work.

In the paper, researchers led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, describe how they used a system of molecules called CRISPR/Cas9, known for its ease of use, to cut DNA in human embryos and then attempted to repair it by introducing new DNA.

In a deliberate attempt to head off ethical concerns, the team used non-viable embryos obtained from fertility clinics, in which eggs had been fertilized by two sperm and so could not result in a live birth.

Gene-editing techniques such as those that rely on CRISPR/Cas9 had previously been used to modify DNA in adult human cells and animal embryos. Earlier this year, rumours were circulating that the methods were being applied in human embryos too, but the Huang paper is the first published report of this.

The team used CRISPR/Cas9 to modify a gene that can cause a potentially fatal blood disorder called β-thalassaemia when it is mutated. Some researchers have suggested that such a procedure, if done in a viable embryo, could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born. Others say that such work crosses an ethical line: in response to the rumours that the work was being carried out, researchers warned in Nature2 and Science3 in March that because the genetic changes to embryos — a procedure known as germline modification — are heritable, they could have an unpredictable effect on future generations.

Researchers have also expressed concerns that any gene-editing research in human embryos could be a slippery slope towards unsafe, unethical or non-medical uses of the technique.

Serious obstacles

Huang’s team says that its results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in a clinical setting. The team injected 86 embryos with CRISPR/Cas9, along with other molecules designed to add in new DNA. The researchers then waited 48 hours, by which time the embryos would have grown to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only 4 of those contained the genetic material designed to repair the cuts. “That’s why we stopped,” says Huang. “We still think it’s too immature.”

His team also found a surprising number of ‘off-target’ mutations assumed to be introduced by the CRISPR/Cas9 complex acting on other parts of the genome. The effect is one of the main safety concerns surrounding germline editing because these unintended mutations could be harmful.

The rates of such mutations were much higher than those observed in gene-editing studies of mouse embryos or human adult cells. And Huang notes that his team probably detected just a subset of the unintended mutations because their study looked at only a portion of the genome known as the exome. “If we did the whole genome sequence, we would get many more,” he says.

Huang wonders whether there might be something intrinsically different that makes the human embryo more susceptible to extra mutations than animal embryos are. Another possibility — suggested by some critics of the work, he says — is that CRISPR/Cas9 worked differently in the embryos that his team used because they were the product of two sperm fertilizing an egg.

For some, these technical challenges support arguments for a moratorium on all research on human germline modification. “I think the paper itself actually provides all of the data that we kind of pointed to,” says Edward Lanphier, president of Sangamo BioSciences in Richmond, California, and a member of the group that wrote the Nature article2 calling for a moratorium.

“Some questions about early human development can only be addressed by studying human embryos.”

But George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, disagrees that the technology is so immature. He says that the researchers did not use the most up-to-date CRISPR/Cas9 methods and that many of the researchers’ problems could have been avoided or lessened if they had.

Although researchers agree that a moratorium on clinical applications is needed while the ethical and safety concerns of human-embryo editing are worked out, many see no problem with the type of research that Huang’s team did, in part because the embryos could not have led to a live birth. “It’s no worse than what happens in IVF all the time, which is that non-viable embryos are discarded,” says John Harris, a bioethicist at the University of Manchester, UK. “I don’t see any justification for a moratorium on research,” he adds. Church, meanwhile, notes that many of the earliest experiments with CRISPR/Cas9 were developed in human induced pluripotent stem cells, adult cells that have been reprogrammed to have the ability to turn into any cell type, including sperm and eggs. He questions whether Huang’s experiments are any more intrinsically problematic.

Modifying human embryos is legal in China and in many US states. Asked whether Huang’s study would have been funded under its rules, the US National Institutes of Health says that it “would likely conclude it could not fund such research”, and is watching the technology to see whether its rules need to be modified.

Because the embryos Huang’s team used were initially created for in vitro fertilization, not for research, the work would already have overcome many of the ethical hurdles it would face in other countries too, adds Tetsuya Ishii, who studies bioethics and policy at the University of Hokkaido in Sapporo, Japan.

Next steps

Applying gene editing to human embryos could answer plenty of basic scientific questions that have nothing to do with clinical applications, says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School, who supports editing of human embryos in vitro for research purposes.

For instance, altering developmental genes with CRISPR/Cas9 could help to reveal their functions. “Some questions about early human development can only be addressed by studying human embryos,” he says.

Gene editing could also be used to engineer specific disease-related mutations in an embryo, which could then be used to produce embryonic stem cells that could act as models for testing drugs and other interventions for disease, says Daley.

Huang now plans to work out how to decrease the number of off-target mutations using adult human cells or animal models.

Still, researchers expect to see more gene-editing studies in human embryos. “The ubiquitous access to and simplicity of creating CRISPRs,” says Lanphier, whose company applies gene-editing techniques to adult human cells, “creates opportunities for scientists in any part of the world to do any kind of experiments they want.” He expects that more scientists will now start work on improving on the results of the Huang paper. A Chinese source familiar with developments in the field said that at least four groups in China are pursuing gene editing in human embryos.

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