You might have heard about Genetically Modified (GM) food, GM crops, GM animals, have you ever come across GM babies? Yes, right now the new trend in science and technology world is designer babies using CRISPR technology!!
Here is a scenario where a couple is listing out and ordering a specialist about traits they want in their baby, and the scenario goes like this:
“we want an intelligent smart boy, with blond hairs, blue eyes, lovely smile and not to forget a good physique so that he becomes part of FIFA world cup”!
Yeah, this is the future scenario, not too close but not too far also. Technology is developing so rapidly that this might be possible.
So on what basis do you think I described this scenario?
Just a few days back, news about the first designer babies triggered the world. Jiankui He, a Chinese researcher with his team at the southern university of science and technology of China claimed that they have genetically modified the embryo of twin babies, with a next crispr baby on its way.
Since the claim is yet to be reported in the scientific paper, right now it is too early to agree upon channel “he lab” in which Jiankui He uploaded five videos in which he is seen to claim successfully edited the genomes of newly born twin girls, Lulu, and nana.
So what was the objective of the experiment?
According to the STAT report in his experiment he employed seven couple who were on fertility treatment and out of which one was successful. In these cases, the father’s were HIV infected and mothers were HIV negative. So in order to ensure the couple’s children will not suffer, he aimed to introduce a rare, genetic variation that makes HIV more difficult to target white blood cells. His intention was to protect the babies from infection later in life so specifically, he deleted a region of receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the emerging gene editing tool crispr-cas9.
How did he carry out his experiment?
During the process of IVF, gene editing was carried out. Initially, sperm was washed to separate semen, fluid where HIV can lurk. Then to create an embryo a single sperm was placed onto a single egg and then the gene editing tool was added.
On the 3rd, 4th and 5th days of the embryo, a few cells were removed and checked for editing. He had given a right to couples to choose edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts, overall 16 of 22 embryos were edited and 11 embryos were used in 6 implants attempts before achieving the twin pregnancy.
What was next!!!
On disclosure of his experiment, undoubtedly the response to his claim was swift and harsh and sparked outrage by various scientist community. Listening to his claim scientists were astonished and condemned the experiment strongly. According to scientists human gene editing is medically dangerous and ethically wrong and have affirmed that crispr is not yet on safe grounds to be tested in human embryos. Hence these have raised many concerns hence Chinese authorities have started an investigation of his work.
This experiment raised many questions and few questions remained unanswered!!
Researchers who saw He’s experiment were not convinced and asked for more evidence to verify that editing was quite successful and did not damage other genes.
Back in history, research has shown that over a few cells in the embryo are incompletely edited or somehow escape from editing completely, resulting in “mosaic” embryo.
Another issue which raised was, how is it possible to determine if every cell in the embryo is equally edited and there is no way to determine each cells DNA.
And on a very serious note, he chose to implant the embryos to establish pregnancies on whose permission, did he consult scientific experts or atheists or any government regulators?
These were the concerned questions, Jiankui He had to face from other scientist groups.
‘Hold on lets just not hurry”- researchers
The consciousness of scientists is, crispr is not yet ready for tinkering in humans unless a serious medical need. According to the national academy of science report, a green signal can be given for serious condition under stringent oversight. But editing gene for enhancement purpose should not be allowed at least at this point of time. According to STAT reports, the study concludes crispr-cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic havoc than experts thought of, perhaps enough to threaten the health of patients and trigger cancer. This is because “there are limits to crispr and the technology is neither efficient nor precise enough for real-world application in embryo, including human” according to Zhang.
Despite outrageous reaction from various researchers and institutes He’ said: “I believe this is going to help the families and their children and if I cause unwanted side effects or harm I would feel the same pain as they do and it’s going to be my responsibility.”
No doubt technology is racing beyond our imagination, but certain guidelines must be drawn. If a scientist in a lab can quietly thrash norms, laws and indulge in meddling with the human genome for personal fame and scientific curiosity then we need to face dangerous consequences resulting out of it. I too support a call for an urgent moratorium on gene edited babies. If at all crispr is used to enhance human traits definitely we will land into genetic inequality era, where parents will be pressurized to edit their children because other parents are and there will be a total mess in the society.
So let me know what are your views and concern regarding crispr babies or if there are any questions related to this post you can freely ask in the comment section below.
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Drafted by Nagama Nadaf
A technophile who is crazy about technology and passionate about blogging.
I care by sharing recent advancements in technology and try to reach out to the minds of people.d