A gene vital in the development of embryos has been discovered.
With help from CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, scientists in the UK have successfully uncovered an important gene for fertility. The Francis Crick Institute researchers applied for permission to begin gene editing back in September 2015. The study was published in Nature.
CRISPR is an enzyme capable of targeting a specific desired gene, cutting it from the sequence and replacing it with an alternative. It has the potential to cut-out hereditary disease and cure cancer.
In this study, OCT4 was a identified as a “master gene” for fertility. When this gene is blocked, the “blastocyst” which outer shell of the embryo, was unable to form.
“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,” said Dr Norah Fogarty, the study’s first author, in a statement.
“Other research methods, including studies in mice, suggested a later and more focused role for OCT4, so our results highlight the need for human embryo research.”
Researchers edited 41 embryos, donated by couples who had undergone IVF treatment. They developed for 7 days before being stopped for analysis. OCT4 may play a role beyond fertilization and is thought to have some association with stem cell biology.
“One way to find out what a gene does in the developing embryo is to see what happens when it isn’t working,” said Dr Kathy Niakan, who led the research and submitted the application for permission to edit genes back in 2015.
“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.”
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