CRISPR-edited babies born in China may have enhanced brain functions
The brains of two genetically edited babies born last year in China might have enhanced memory and cognition, but that doesn't mean the scientific community is pleased.
- In November, Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported that he'd used the CRISPR tool to edit the embryos of two girls.
- He deleted a gene called CCR5, which allows humans to contract HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.
- In addition to blocking AIDS, deleting this gene might also have positive effects on memory and cognition. Still, virtually all scientists say we're not ready to use gene-editing technology on babies.
The controversial decision to genetically edit the embryos of two girls born in China last year might have enhanced their memory and cognition, scientists say.
Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported in November that he'd used the CRISPR editing tool to delete a gene called CCR5, which enables humans to contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition to potentially blocking the development of AIDS, recent research suggests knocking out CCR5 can also make mice smarter and help the human brain recover from strokes.
"The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains," Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab studied the CCR5 gene's role in memory and cognition, told MIT Technology Review. "The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins."
Despite any potential benefits, the scientific community has almost universally condemned the move, which was generally described as a premature use of technology whose physiological and philosophical consequences on human life remain unclear. When Silva learned He had used CRISPR to delete the CCR5 gene, his reaction was "visceral repulsion and sadness."
"I suddenly realized, 'Oh, holy shit, they are really serious about this bullshit,'" he told MIT Technology Review.
The CRISPR co-founder's response to He
Jennifer Doudna, a professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and co-inventor of CRISPR, published a statement in November saying the public should consider the following points on the use of gene-editing technology:
- The clinical report has not been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
- Because the data has not been peer reviewed, the fidelity of the gene editing process cannot be evaluated.
- The work, as described to date, reinforces the urgent need to confine the use of gene editing in human embryos to cases where a clear unmet medical need exists, and where no other medical approach is a viable option, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
In 2017, Doudna spoke to Big Think about the tricky regulatory and philosophical questions we might soon wrestle with if genetically designing babies becomes an option for parents.
As Silva told MIT Technology Review, this kind of selective gene-editing wouldn't just have consequences for parents and their kids, but also for society at large:
"Could it be conceivable that at one point in the future we could increase the average IQ of the population? I would not be a scientist if I said no. The work in mice demonstrates the answer may be yes. But mice are not people. We simply don't know what the consequences will be in mucking around. We are not ready for it yet."
The pandemic reminds us that our higher education system, with all its flaws, remains a key part of our strategic reserve.
- America's higher education system is under great scrutiny as it adapts to a remote-learning world. These criticisms will only make higher ed more innovative.
- While there are flaws in the system and great challenges ahead, higher education has adapted quickly to allow students to continue learning. John Katzman, CEO of online learning organization Noodle Partners, believes this is cause for optimism not negativity.
- Universities are pillars of scientific research on the COVID-19 frontlines, they bring facts in times of uncertainty and fake news, and, in a bad economy, education is a personal floatation device.
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A debate is raging inside and outside of churches.
- Over 1,200 pastors in California claim they're opening their churches this week against state orders.
- While church leaders demand independence from governmental oversight, 9,000 Catholic churches have received small business loans.
- A number of re-opened churches shut back down after members and clergy became infected with the novel coronavirus.
An MIT system uses wireless signals to measure in-home appliance usage to better understand health tendencies.
For many of us, our microwaves and dishwashers aren't the first thing that come to mind when trying to glean health information, beyond that we should (maybe) lay off the Hot Pockets and empty the dishes in a timely way.