The bioethical dilemmas surrounding “the Creation of CRISPR Babies”

These GEITP pages feel “obliged” to help make everyone aware of this recent bioethical dilemma, i.e. for everyone to ponder (if you so wish). The topic [see attached editorial] is “the Creation of CRISPR Babies” — meaning that it is now <> to remove or insert a human allele (one of the two copies of a gene in the developing very-early embryo), just as has already been done successfully in mice for the past 5+ years. A Chinese scientist (biophysicist He Jiankui) reported 3-4 months ago the birth of twin girls with edited genomes (at least, he says that the gene has been altered in these babies); this announcement has created a firestorm in the scientific and ethical communities. By engineering mutations into human embryos (which were then used to produce babies), Dr, He has leaped recklessly into an era of controversy.

Should scientists be able to “revise” the gene pool of future generations — by altering the human germ line? Dr. He has also ignored established norms for safety and human protections along the way. There is still no definitive evidence that this biophysicist actually has succeeded in modifying the girls’ genes — or those of a third child expected to be born later this year. However, the experiments have attracted so much attention that the incident could alter this type of obstetrical research for years to come. Chinese authorities are still investigating Dr. He, and US universities are asking questions of some of the scientists with whom Dr. He had consulted before proceeding recklessly ahead, on his own.

Meanwhile, there are calls for an international moratorium on related experiments — which could affect basic molecular biology research for a long time. This news has motivated some scientists to encourage further discussion “sooner, than later”, in favor of genome editing. Some are concerned about how public perception might now affect the future of the field. The attached article is worth reading, for those who might be interested.


Nature 28 Feb 2o19; 566: 440-442

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