Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

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.

YouTube
  • 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."

Live tomorrow! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Improving Olympic performance with asthma drugs?

A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.

Image source: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
  • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
  • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.

Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Why are we fascinated by true crime stories?

Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast