This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/26/chinese-scientist-creates-worlds-first-genetically-edited-babies/
By The Telegraphs,
A Chinese researcher claims he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies – twin girls whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.
If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics.
A US scientist said he took part in the work in China, but this kind of gene editing is banned in the United States because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes.
Many mainstream scientists think it’s too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation.
The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have – an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the Aids virus.
He said the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where the work was done.
There is no independent confirmation of He’s claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts. He revealed it on Monday in Hong Kong to one of the organisers of an international conference on gene editing that is set to begin on Tuesday, and earlier in interviews with The Associated Press.
How Crispr works
Crispr-Cas9, abbreviated from ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’, is a hybrid of protein and ribonucleic acid (RNA), which works as an efficient hunt-and-cut system in bacteria.
Molecular biologists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier realised that it could work well in other cells, including those of humans, to carry out genome editing.
- An RNA molecule marks a precise point in the genome thread then ‘guides’ in the Cas9 enzyme, which acts as a pair of scissors to cut both strands of DNA
- A new DNA segment can then be introduced to repair a faulty gene, or a new gene altogether can be inserted
- The cut strands of DNA then repair themselves, incorporating the new genetic information. If nothing is inserted, the repair process can silence, or ‘turn off’, a faulty gene
Some scientists were astounded to hear of the claim and strongly condemned it.
It’s “unconscionable … an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal.
“This is far too premature,” said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. “We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It’s a big deal.”
However, one famed geneticist, Harvard University’s George Church, defended attempting gene editing for HIV, which he called “a major and growing public health threat.”
“I think this is justifiable,” Church said of that goal.
In recent years scientists have discovered a relatively easy way to edit genes, the strands of DNA that govern the body. The tool, called CRISPR-cas9, makes it possible to operate on DNA to supply a needed gene or disable one that’s causing problems.
It’s only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes are confined to that person. Editing sperm, eggs or embryos is different – the changes can be inherited. In the US, it’s not allowed except for lab research. China outlaws human cloning but not specifically gene editing.
He Jiankui, who goes by “JK,” studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.