Genome editing reveals role of gene important for human embryo development
Researchers have used genome editing technology to reveal the role of a key gene in human embryos in the first few days of development. This is the first time that genome editing has been used to study gene function in human embryos, which could help scientists to better understand the biology of our early development.
This knowledge will be essential to develop new treatments against developmental disorders and could also help understand adult diseases such as diabetes that may originate during the early stage of life.
- Ludovic Vallier
The team used genome editing techniques to stop a key gene from producing a protein called OCT4, which normally becomes active in the first few days of human embryo development. After the egg is fertilised, it divides until at about seven days it forms a ball of around 200 cells called the ‘blastocyst’. The study found that human embryos need OCT4 to correctly form a blastocyst.
“We were surprised to see just how crucial this gene is for human embryo development, but we need to continue our work to confirm its role” says Dr Norah Fogarty from the Francis Crick Institute, first author of the study. “Other research methods, including studies in mice, suggested a later and more focussed role for OCT4, so our results highlight the need for human embryo research.”
Dr Kathy Niakan from the Francis Crick Institute, who led the research adds, “One way to find out what a gene does in the developing embryo is to see what happens when it isn’t working. Now we have demonstrated an efficient way of doing this, we hope that other scientists will use it to find out the roles of other genes. If we knew the key genes that embryos need to develop successfully, we could improve IVF treatments and understand some causes of pregnancy failure. It will take many years to achieve such an understanding, our study is just the first step.”
The research was published in Nature and led by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at Cambridge University, Oxford University, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Seoul National University and Bourn Hall Clinic. It was chiefly funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Wellcome and Cancer Research.
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Image: Day 2 embryo
Credit: Dr Kathy Niakan/Nature
Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz is also the President of the Cambridge Network.