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Scientists have demonstrated an "incredibly powerful" ability to manipulate the building blocks of life in two separate studies. One altered the atoms in DNA to rewrite the human genetic code and the instructions for life. The other edited RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA and unlocks the information in the genetic code. The studies - which could eventually treat diseases - have been described as clever, important and exciting. Cystic fibrosis, inherited blindness and other diseases caused by a single typo in the genetic code could ultimately be prevented or treated with such approaches. Both studies were performed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Dr Sarah Chan, a bioethicist at the University of Edinburgh, said we can no longer pretend the technology is too dangerous to contemplate. She told the BBC: "We can't hide any more. "The science is moving fast in the sense it is becoming less risky, more certain, more precise and more effective. "It is absolutely past time for us to engage more widely with public's on the issue of gene editing."
Dr Helen O'Neill, from UCL, said: "This is an exciting week for genetic research. "These papers highlight the fast pace of the field and the continuous improvements being made in genome editing, bringing it closer and closer to the clinic." Scientific advances in genetic engineering are taking place at an incredible pace. And the same technologies work on plants, animals and micro-organisms too, posing questions for areas like agriculture.
Of more than 50,000 genetic changes currently known to be associated with disease in humans, 32,000 of those are caused by the simple swap of one base pair for another, Liu said.