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Aurora magazine

Trials of genetic editing on spermatozoa in the USA

Researchers at Harvard University are trying to modify the DNA of some sperm cells. Their goal will be a gene linked to Alzheimer's, so as to reduce the risk that a possible embryo inherits predisposition to the disease. Embryo destined to not exist, given that the experiment will stop at gametes, at least for the moment.

The gene at the center of the experiment is ApoE. People who inherit two copies are 60% more likely to develop Alzheimer's. The team therefore decided to cut the risk at the root. Scientists will modify the individual nitrogenous bases without cutting the double helix. If ApoE is really among the causes of the disease, this should reduce the risk of developing it.

For the moment the experiment will stop the spermatozoa: no embryos in anticipation. This is a basic research, aimed at verifying the feasibility of the thing and identifying any risks. Nevertheless, the controversy is already popping up, especially following the news of the Chinese twins. Is this experiment the principle of a world of GMO children?

The question is complex. Certainly genetic editing has the potential to eliminate terrible diseases at the root. It could eliminate cystic fibrosis and other genetic diseases, reduce the risk of cancer. On the other hand, any mutation made on gametes will affect future generations. That's why such experiments require attention and still many years of research.