TECHNICAL DIRECTOR’S BLOG #1: GENETIC ENGINEERING OF HUMANS IS COMING WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT

In my job, I find out about many interesting people doing interesting things. This new blog feature will build a compendium of the very cool, very exciting, and sometimes very scary things that I get to see that I think our IBioIC friends will find interesting or should be aware of.

I was inspired to write this blog after reading this incredible article from Fiona Mischel on “the CRISPR twins” from Synbiobeta (@synbiobeta) last week. Controversies are unlikely to be bigger than this one - if we thought GMO crops were a challenge, this one puts that in the shade!

At the end of last year a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, claimed he used human embryos modified with the gene-editing technique CRISPR to create twin girls in order to protect the babies from HIV-infection. Recent reports suggest the He Jiankui has since been fired by his Institute.

Mischel’s article and others articulate the many dilemmas we face when it comes to use of CRISPR which I don’t need to re-hash here - they’ve already done it better than I can. Last year my kids were blown away by this magnificent video from the geniuses at Kurzgesagt: “Genetic Engineering will change everything forever - CRISPR”. My boys (14 and 10) were inspired, excited and frankly terrified by what they saw. Please take sixteen minutes of your life to watch this and enable yourself to take part in one of the most important debates the scientific world currently faces.

Genetic engineering of humans is coming whether we like it or not…as the revelations from Dr He have  shown. And if we are editing embryos, those edits become heritable and enter the germline. We don’t know where they will end up - and we’ll find that very difficult to control. But we will also be able to do some incredible things and make life better for many people around the world.

This is a conversation we need to begin NOW.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/chinese-scientist-made-gene-edited-babies-evaded-oversight-091531507.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_sig=qE0HHsV5tgWNETJgRLSVtqrnGEE8wUvePDgxV2KpWN8

https://synbiobeta.com/the-crispr-twins-bioethics-for-the-gene-editing-age/

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/11/26/670752865/chinese-scientist-says-hes-first-to-genetically-edit-babies?t=1550854284821

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY

 

By Ian Archer, IBioIC Technical Director