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Made in China: CRISPR babies that are genetically modified, resistant to HIV

A few scientists are wary of the development of the gene editing technology as it may lead to designer babies.

  • Published: November 26, 2018 1:36 PM IST
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New information has emerged on the internet indicating that CRISPR scientists in China have created babies after editing their genes. This means that the scientists edited the genes of the babies before they were born. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats which is an internal defense system against bacteria and scientists use it to edit genes. The exact name of the gene editing technology is CRISPR-Cas9. Everything till this point may be sounding too complex and technical. In addition to that, you may be wondering that what is the big deal in gene editing.

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Taking a closer look at the function of the DNA, all the information present in the DNA molecules located next to each other or a DNA sequence has to be converted in messages that will be used to make proteins. Each DNA sequence contains instructions on making a protein is known as a gene. So this means that scientists are editing these DNA sequences to modify the basic structure of the human DNA. For an easier analogy, this means that users are hanging the basic fundamental characteristic of a paper.

According to a report by MIT Technology Review, a Chinese scientist has claimed to create the first genetically-edited babies in the world. This scientist, Dr. Jiankui He is from a university in Shenzhen and he revealed that the first CRISPR babies were born earlier this month where he edited their genes to remove the CCR5 gene. For people who may be unaware, this gene is critical in infecting the body with “many forms of HIV.

Dr. Jiankui He and his team are working on using the CRISPR technology to remove the CCR5 gene from babies before they are born to make them resistant to HIV. This report comes right before the start of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing that is scheduled to take place in Hong Kong. According to the report, He had not informed the organizers about his study. However, He revealed that he just informed them about the study.

It is worth noting that independent verification of He’s claims has not been done at the time of writing. Considering it is gene edition, the report added that this study was approved by the Medical Ethics Committee of Shenzhen HOME Women’s and Children’s Hospital. According to the report, He noted that the reason he went ahead with the study is to not only be the first to create CRISPR babies but to also make an example so that society can later “decide” on “what to do next.”

He’s research team was looking for married couples in China between March 7, 2017, and March 7, 2019, who matched the age and health requirement along with the will to opt for IVF therapy instead of conventional childbirth. According to the team, removal of the CCR5 gene is just a first step in the journey to gain insights to eliminate “major genetic diseases in early human embryos” in the future. He noted that he is aware of the potential of harm by the study and it is his responsibility in that case.

Talking about genetic edition on a broader term, the practice is considered radical because of the ethical implications. A Tech Crunch report adds that scientists are wary of the development of the gene editing technology as it may lead to designer babies. This means that people with sufficient money can easily remove all the conventional weaknesses from their babies. To convey the significance of this study and the results, MIT Technology Review terms it has “a daring effort” in the field.

  • Published Date: November 26, 2018 1:36 PM IST