from the world's big
New research shows how Americans feel about genetic engineering, human enhancement and automation.
- A review of Pew Research studies reveals the views of Americans on the role of science in society.
- 4 key questions were asked to gauge feelings on genetic engineering, automation and human enhancement.
- Americans are split in how they view technology and many worry about its growing role.
Watch Elon Musk’s presentation on Neuralink here:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a646a0b439db89b498836659049faf35"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lA77zsJ31nA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A punishment is handed down for performing shocking research on human embryos.
- In November 2018, a Chinese scientist claimed he'd flouted ethics and the law to edit genes in human embryos.
- Other Chinese scientists call He Jiankui's research "crazy."
- Three gene-modified babies are now living in China, future uncertain.
He's experiments<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjI2NTE1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjE0MDI2Mn0.pD6za00yORg0ZH6nk0RJLh3SBOzed7uc1oh9yZDe3tc/img.jpg?width=980" id="98186" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5a306efb5afbd1a936315f28134a8417" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
He tells the world
Image source: Anthony Wallace/Getty<p>When He first announced his research in November 2018 at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, the scientific community was stunned at this deliberate flaunting of scientific consensus and Chinese law. A <a href="https://www.yicai.com/news/100067069.html" target="_blank">statement</a> from 122 Chinese scientists referred to He's work as "crazy" and called it "a huge blow to the global reputation and development of Chinese science."</p><p>He, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, claimed to have used CRISPR-cas9 in an attempt to provide embryos with immunity to HIV. The DNA in 16 embryos was altered, and 11 of these were used in six implant attempts that eventually led to the successful pregnancy of three infants. </p><p>After the announcement, Julian Savulescu of University of Oxford told <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/26/worlds-first-gene-edited-babies-created-in-china-claims-scientist" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, "If true, this experiment is monstrous," adding that, "There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: for example, protected sex. And there are effective treatments if one does contract it. This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit." While there <em>are</em> <a href="https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/asia-pacific/china" target="_blank">HIV infections in China</a>, there was no indication that the embryos had been infected.</p><p>In his announcement, He claimed to have inserted a mutated form of the CCR5 gene into the embryos' genome, a particular mutation that makes a small number of people immune to HIV. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/26/worlds-first-gene-edited-babies-created-in-china-claims-scientist" target="_blank">According to</a> Kiran Musunuru of University of Pennsylvania, though, the mutation has a nasty downside: People who have it are at higher risk of contracting other, non-HIV viruses, and of dying of the flu. So, while potentially shielding his subjects from HIV, He was, in essence, consigning them to a lifetime of enhanced vulnerability to all sorts of more common infections.</p><p>It's likely, however, that He never actually produced or inserted the CCR5 mutation in any event. Excerpts of He's documentation published in <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614764/chinas-crispr-babies-read-exclusive-excerpts-he-jiankui-paper/" target="_blank"><em>MIT Technology Review</em></a> suggest that what He created were some new kinds of CCR5 mutations, as well as unintended gene mutations elsewhere in the genome, and the effect of all of these edits are anyone's guess. After reviewing the excerpts, University of California, Berkeley's Fyodor Urnov <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/26/worlds-first-gene-edited-babies-created-in-china-claims-scientist" target="_blank">concluded</a> He's claim was "a deliberate falsehood."</p>
What the court said<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjI2NTU5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzkyOTExM30.W-iOUnHs0lXu59_5Wqq6ACnLouuscxg4dr-ySfS1pjg/img.jpg?width=980" id="03f5e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ce199d4f8ebb8abea1a6b9b2341146e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
He Jiankui and his genetic research team
Image source: VCG/Getty<p>Two of He's colleagues involved in the research were also convicted by the Shenzhen court. According to Chinese news outlet <em>Xinhua</em>, the court found:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"The three accused did not have the proper certification to practice medicine, and in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national regulations in scientific research and medical treatment. They've crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics."</em></p><p>The court also ruled that He had forged documents from an ethics review panel.</p><p>The other two researchers found guilty were Zhang Renli, who was sentenced to two years in prison and fined one million yuan (about $143,000), and Qin Jinzhou, whose 18-month sentence came with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 yuan ($71,000) fine.</p>
Experts are saying it's a "huge step forward for synthetic biology."
- Until recently, the gene-editing tool CRISPR has only been able to make changes within single genes.
- The new tools allow scientists to cut and splice larger chunks of genetic material.
- The findings will likely have major implications for a variety of research fields, and also allow researchers to create synthetic species that can produce molecules not made by natural organisms.
Why CRISPR Gene Editing Gives Its Creator Nightmares<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="u3sqCd8p" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="70a49da39ebef0046722a15fbd2f9cca"> <div id="botr_u3sqCd8p_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/u3sqCd8p-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/u3sqCd8p-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/u3sqCd8p-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The new tools will likely open the doors for scientists to explore many novel areas: create synthetic species that can produce molecules not made by natural organisms, write information into DNA for use as a storage device, and drive down the costs of medical research by making it easier to edit bacterial genomes on a larger scale.</p><p>However, using CRISPR to edit large sections of the human genome is unlikely to occur anytime soon, given the regulatory hurdles and <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/first-genetically-edited-babies" target="_self">ethical complications</a>. After all, scientists aren't fully <a href="https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/new-study-finds-that-crispr-may-cause-hundreds-of-unintended-mutations-into-the-genome" target="_self">aware of the consequences</a> of making small edits to DNA, much less larger cuts.</p><p>"We don't always fully understand the changes we're making," Alan Regenberg, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, told <em><a href="The new tools will likely open the doors for scientists to explore many novel areas: create synthetic species that can produce molecules not made by natural organisms, write information into DNA for use as a storage device, and drive down the costs of medical research by making it easier to edit bacterial genomes on a larger scale. However, using CRISPR to edit large sections of the human genome is unlikely to occur anytime soon, given the regulatory hurdles and ethical complications. After all, scientists aren't fully aware of the consequences of making small edits to DNA, much less larger cuts. "We don't always fully understand the changes we're making," Alan Regenberg, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, told Science News. "Even if we do make the changes we want to make, there's still question about whether it will do what we want and not do things we don't want."" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science News</a></em>. "Even if we do make the changes we want to make, there's still question about whether it will do what we want and not do things we don't want."</p>
A transformational tool for the future of the world.
- The 'cut and paste' DNA tool CRISPR will one day eliminate deadly diseases.
- The technology will give us the capability to genetically design our children and perhaps one day ourselves.
- CRISPR is already revolutionizing certain fields of medicine.
Curing diseases from genetic errors<p>There are a number of genes we inherit which give us bum luck when it comes to disease. Already, CRISPR-based platforms have been developed which are either identifying the genes that lead to these diseases or are actively finding out how to remove them.</p> <p>For example, scientists have been working on researching the genes responsible for the cellular process that leads to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.</p> <p>Pharmaceutical companies are developing new CRISPR-based drugs that could one day treat heritable heart disease and other disorders. </p> <p>There has been some headway from multiple sources in treating HIV. CRISPR has managed to remove the virus's DNA from a few humans' genomes. In 2018, this was mired in controversy as Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported in November that he'd <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/crispr-edited-babies-improved-cognition" target="_self">used CRISPR to delete a gene called CCR5,</a> which enables humans to contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.</p> <p>The scientific community or at least the most vocal of the bunch, were in an uproar after this as they saw the genetic alteration as premature and unethical. They also worried about the unintended consequences.</p> <p>Yet more level heads in the community and the ones that matter most like Harvard geneticist George Church, found the criticism to be overblown. In an <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/i-feel-obligation-be-balanced-noted-biologist-comes-defense-gene-editing-babies" target="_blank">interview with Science Insider</a> he talked about how he felt an obligation to be balanced on the subject. </p> <p>"People have said there's a moratorium on germline editing and I contributed to reports that called for that, but a moratorium is not a permanent ban forever… At some point, we have to say we've done hundreds of animal studies and we've done quite a few human embryo studies. It may be after the dust settles there's mosaicism and off targets that affect medical outcomes. It may never be zero."</p><br>In this regard, many Western countries are falling behind when it comes to our freedom of manipulating genetic code. In places such as China, scientists are given free reign to <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/human-monkey-hybrid" target="_self">experiment on human embryos.</a>
Understanding cancer completely in order to eliminate it<p>CRISPR has already been instrumental in modifying immune cells to make them more efficient at attacking and destroying cancer cells. The genetic alteration tool can also be used to evaluate how someone will react to new anti-cancer drugs, which could lead to a personalized genetic treatment plan.</p> <p>We're also learning more about how cancer cells work together. Lou Staudt, M.D., Ph.D., of NCI's Center for Cancer Research said,</p> <p>"We know that mutated genes form abnormal regulatory networks within the cells. Those regulatory networks can give you new targets for therapy… Comparing the behavior of cancer and normal cells with the same CRISPR-generated mutation can help researchers identify gene targets that cancer cells depend on for survival but that normal cells can do without."</p> <p>Studies like this can help researchers better determine how cancer cells grow and propagate. Many scientists believe that understanding exactly how cancer cells develop and change is the best way to discover how to eliminate cancer completely. They dream of one day making all sorts of cancer akin to treating the common cold.</p>
An evolution to the Transhuman<p>Many people are concerned about the idea of "designer babies" as humans will eventually opt for genetic enhancements. The least creative among us think that it'll create a kind of genetic discrimination. Rather than outright banning the technology – which will just bring it underground anyways and expedite a haves and haves not situation, we should encourage it.</p> <p>CRISPR has the distinct capability to bring about new and diverse paths of human evolution. In the hands of great scientists and artists, we could become something else entirely. Something great and powerful. </p> <p>Again we look to George Church, who has recently <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/harvard-geneticist-plan-for-redesigning-humans" target="_self">made a list of genes</a> that could be modified to enhance human abilities. The list includes both the positive and potential negative effects which could bring us to the posthuman or transhuman age. </p> <p>In an interview with Futurism, the professor talked about this database of genes and his goal to drive down the cost of such genetic resources.</p><p>"I felt that both ends of the phenotype spectrum should be useful. And the protective end might yield more powerful medicines useful for more people and hence less expensive."</p> <p>"It also serves as a reminder," Church said regarding the database. "that not all mutations are negative or neutral."</p> <p>Some of the choices from the "Transhumanist Wishlist" included genetic alterations that would aid in enhanced physiology and intellect. Such as the LRP5 gene which would give people extra-strong bones that don't break. Or MSTN that could produce larger and leaner muscles, while also curing muscular dystrophy. On the mind side, the GRIN2B gene could lead to greater memory and increased learning abilities.</p>
Destroy dangerous pests and their pathogens<p>Mosquitos carry some of the worst forms of disease which wreck underdeveloped countries. This may one day be a thing of the past. Scientists have already created mosquitoes that are malaria resistant. These altered mosquitoes would pass on these same genes nearly 100 percent of the time to their offspring, even after mating with non-edited mosquitoes.</p> <p>The method for change here is called transmission. CRISPR could directly attack infectious diseases through a number of different pests, be it rats, mosquitoes, ticks, or what have you. <a href="https://www.healio.com/infectious-disease/emerging-diseases/news/print/infectious-disease-news/%7Bce5e7472-68b6-48ee-82fb-c6126c746068%7D/can-gene-drives-end-mosquito-borne-disease" target="_blank">Scientists at the University of California, Riverside</a> have developed genetically altered mosquitoes with a set of strange traits, resulting in wingless and yellow mosquitoes.</p> <p>Their intention is to gain radical control over the traits that the mosquito will pass to its offspring. The end goal is to test a "gene drive" which would inhibit disease carrying properties. A gene drive would make sure that a genetic trait is never inherited again to a certain degree. </p> <p>Interfering with mosquitos could have unintended consequences. While we don't know the extent of their ecological value, this could disrupt a fragile system we're not aware of.</p>
Revive extinct species<p>Since 2017, Church and his team have been working on developing an embryo <a href="https://bigthink.com/stephen-johnson/scientists-are-trying-revive-woolly-mammoth-dna-to-fight-climate-change" target="_self">for an elephant mammoth hybrid,</a> which essentially would bring the mammoth back to life. A <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/woolly-mammoth" target="_self">number of labs around the world</a> have been working on this problem. Japanese and Russian scientists were recently able to "reactive" 28,000 year old wooly mammoth cells. </p> <p>"I was looking under the microscope at night while I was alone in the laboratory," 90-year-old Akira Iritani, a co-author on the new study who's spent years working toward resurrecting the woolly mammoth, told CNN. "I was so moved when I saw the cells stir. I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."</p><p>The rebirth of mammoths could actually be a boon to tackling climate change as well. </p> <p>"The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer… Those two [factors] combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem," said George Church at the 2018 Liberty Science Center Genius Gala.</p> <p>Scientists hope to utilize CRISPR to combine genetic code from Asian elephants with the wooly mammoth. Samples of mammoth genes comes from frozen hairballs that were found in Siberia. </p> <p>An undertaking like this could move the field forward in such a way that an unfathomable amount of ancient animals could be resurrected and modified in ways to temper our new world.</p>
Do scientists know enough about gene editing to move forward with human trials?
- Doctors used the gene-editing tool in an attempt to treat a 34-year-old patient with sickle cell disease.
- Last year, a Chinese scientist caused major controversy when he used CRISPR to genetically edit two human embryos.
- It's unclear exactly what risks are involved in gene editing.