By: Samriddhi Rastogi
Genetic Engineering. The scientific phenomenon that made us realize that we can decide when we go extinct. When we discovered the genetic engineering techniques known as CRISPR, all scientists decided against using it on children. After all, no-one wanted a repeat of Jesse Gelsinger, the first death because of gene therapy. No, it was just better to make sure that the technology had no side effects before trying it on children. However, most scientists would be lying if they told you they weren’t curious about seeing what would happen if they genetically engineered and implanted an embryo. In fact, Harvard researchers are indeed beginning to use CRISPR to tinker with the DNA of sperm, though only in embryos not intended for pregnancy. (1) Considering this take-it- slow attitude for CRISPR, one Chinese researcher decided to play God, in the making of the first genetically engineered children.
CRISPR, (pronounced: crisper) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. (2 )A relatively new invention, CRISPR was a series of discoveries followed by the latest on in 2013 by Feng Zhang, which was the fact that it could be harnessed for genome editing. (3)
CRISPR allows the scientist to cut a #gene and repair it, using a guide molecule and an enzyme. A gene can be made more active, changed, or completely removed.
The CRISPR technology can be used, if further developed, to help #curecancer. It can also be used to edit human and sperm cells, an ability which has sparked many a debate on whether or not it is ethical to fine tune it.
One scientist in China, He Jiankui, recently announced in the Human Genome Editing Conference on 28th November 2018 that he had used CRISPR on human embryos. Jiankui implanted 2 of these embryos, which were edited to remove the gene CCR5, which results in #resistance to AIDS caused by HIV. He justified his experiments by stating that the father of the twins did not want them to suffer the way he has to as a result of HIV and that the discovery of this use can have considerable medical value. Jiankui is yet to publish his work in a scientific journal and have it peer edited.
The twin girls born as a result of this experiment, Nana and Lulu, are named that way to maintain their anonymity in the case.
The Chinese government must still look into how many laws He has broken, and in the meantime, Jiankui is under arrest and has been fired from his job at The Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen (SUSTech). (4)
More than 120 scientists in China have signed a joint statement saying that they do not stand with Him and his work. However, there are some who believe that this is a milestone in Genetic engineering.
When CRISPR was found capable of editing genes in an embryo, the entire scientific community had declared #Moratorium, or a ban on genetically modified humans, until they were entirely sure that CRISPR was safe., now that it has been carried out, albeit illegally, do you think it is time to move on? Do you feel it #morallycorrect that the two children and soon to be born third child will have to live under constant scientific observation their whole life?
Southern University of Science and Technology Statement On the Genetic Editing of Human Embryos Conducted by Dr. Jiankui HE - In the Focus - SUSTC, sustc.edu.cn/en/info_focus/2871.
“CRISPR Timeline.” Broad Institute, 7 Dec. 2018, www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/crispr-timeline.
“Genetically Modified Organisms: Editing Genes with CRISPR-Cas.” Dummies, www.dummies.com/education/science/biology/genetically-modified-organisms-editing-genes-crispr-cas/.
Plumer, Brad, et al. “A Simple Guide to CRISPR, One of the Biggest Science Stories of the Decade.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 27 Dec. 2018, www.vox.com/2018/7/23/17594864/crispr-cas9-gene-editing.