1 CRISPR babies

Gene editing or genome editing is the technique used to replace or cutting pieces of DNA [Ref]. Using a component known as  CRISPR to precisely pinpoint the sequence of DNA in the gene, an enzyme called Cas9 is used to cut through the part identified. It can also replace a removed part by another sequence of DNA. This technique can be used to replace a faculty gene or change a gene to make it behave differently. Gene editing can have very good effects like altering a disease gene or modifying a diseased gene to behave normally. However gene editing can also produce some questionable effects such as altering a physical function or a characteristic – e.g. eye colour gene can be altered to produce blue eyes and this can make the way for designer  babies.

Gene-edited humans would one day be born but the scientific world was not prepared as there was a number of issues to be fully investigated and ethical issues deliberated.

He Jiankui, a scientist from China, had secretly launched the first attempt to create children with edited genes. He edited human embryos using CRISPR to remove a single gene. He claimed that twin girls—named Lula and Lala—had been born and that they would be immune to HIV because of how he’d altered their genomes.

Changing the genes in an embryo means changing genes in every cell. If the method succeeds, the baby will have alterations that will be inherited by all of the child’s progeny. And that, scientists agree, is a serious undertaking that must be done with great deliberation and only to treat a serious disease for which there are no other options — if it is to be done at all [Ref]

What Jiankui did was to disable a perfectly normal gene, CCR₅. While people who are born with both copies of CCR₅ disabled are resistant to H.I.V., they are more susceptible to West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis. More worrying, Crispr often inadvertently alters genes other than the one being targeted, and there are also circumstances, called mosaicism, where some cells contain the edited gene and others do not.

“Should such epic scientific misadventures proceed, a technology with enormous promise for prevention and treatment of disease will be overshadowed by justifiable public outrage, fear, and disgust,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

Some worry that this is the first step toward using gene editing to create people with extreme intelligence, beauty or athletic ability. But that, for now, is not possible. Such traits are thought to be affected by possibly hundreds of genes acting in concert, and affected in turn by the environment. The biggest ethical concerns for now are with rogue scientists enticing couples who do not realize the risks to babies that might result from the experiments. And when those children grow up, the altered genes will be passed on to their children, and to their children’s children, for generations to come.


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