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- Because the data has not been peer reviewed, the fidelity of the gene editing process cannot be evaluated.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."
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.