In the country where you are not allowed to voice a political opinion that differs from the government, a Chinese scientist has revealed that he successfully made the world's first genetically edited babies. The process was documented very closely and the strangeness of it all leaves one wondering where the ethical "line in the sand" is when it comes to genetically modifying people like they were wheat.
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Is it possible we are already living in the future where you will soon be able to choose from a catalog of features and literally build your own child's body from the ground up like the beginning of a video game?
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CRISPR technology is already far past that line of ethical consideration and now have the world's first genetically edited twin girls. The girls were born earlier this month after a Chinese scientist named Dr. Jiankui He told the Associated Press that he edited their embryos using CRISPR technology.
The goal of Dr. Jiankui He was to remove the CCR5 gene, a gene "which plays a critical role in enabling many forms of the HIV virus to infect cells", according to TechCrunch. The Associated Press interviewed Dr. Jiankui He after a report by the MIT Technology Review
which was released early Sunday.
The report says that Dr. He's team at the Southern University of Science and Technology wants to use CRISPR technology to eliminate the CCR5 gene altogether effectively making children with built-in resistance to HIV. What exactly is CRISPR technology and what can it do?
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According to the CRISPR Wikipedia, CRISPR stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats" and "is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. ... Each repetition is followed by short segments of spacer DNA from previous integration of foreign DNA from a virus or plasmid."
How does it work?
The Broad Institute says, "CRISPR "spacer" sequences are transcribed into short RNA sequences ("CRISPR RNAs" or "crRNAs") capable of guiding the system to matching sequences of DNA. When the target DNA is found, Cas9 – one of the enzymes produced by the CRISPR system – binds to the DNA and cuts it, shutting the targeted gene off."
This basically gives scientists the ability "customize" babies before they are born and potentially make them resistant to things like HIV. Dr. He and his team's research is set to stir up a storm at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing
which is set to commence Tuesday in China's city of Hong Kong.
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The organizers of the summit were not briefed in advance of what Dr. He plans to present. Although it appears that Dr. He's claims are legitimate, none of his research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Dr. He told the Associated Press that he studied at Rice and Stanford before returning to China.
Dr. He said he felt "a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example" and that "society will decide what to do next." I can just about guarantee that you can replace the word "society" from that statement and insert "government", China's government to be exact.
A summary of Dr. He and his team's work in the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry said the study began on March 7, 2017, and is set to go until March 7, 2019. The study sought out married couples in China who met certain health and age requirements and were willing to undergo IVF therapy. IVF stands for "In vitro fertilization", which means making a woman pregnant by fertilizing the woman's egg with sperm outside the body, in vitro.
Dr, Jiankui He | Southern University of Science and Technology
The registry also said genetic tests have already been carried out on fetuses of 12, 19, and 24 weeks of gestational age. The parents of the children in the study have chosen to remain anonymous, I wonder if the children will get the same choice. Dr. He added, "I believe this is going to help the families and their children. I would feel the same pain as they do and it’s going to be my own responsibility."
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