Chinese ‘Designer Baby’ Tool Is Window Into Eerie Future
A Chinese scientist created a genetically modified human twins who appear to be resistant to HIV. The announcement attracted widespread criticism, with many labeling the concept as “designer babies.” Additionally, some mainstream news outlets related genetically modified babies to a form of vaccines.
Dr. He Jiankui is hardly shy regarding his “successful” gene editing experiment. In fact, he boasted that he’s extremely proud of the work. Jiankui used a device known as a CRISPR to remove a gene from embryos of twin girls. The removal of the gene resulted in both girls being resistant to HIV.
The documents cite that Jianku’s team at Southern University of Science and Technology did indeed create the first gene edited babies.
‘Designer Babies’ Stirs Emotions On Both Sides
So what’s bad? What’s Good?
That’s a whole lot of complexity.
The bad is that many people fear the feat offers an eerie slippery slope into “designer babies” which look and act as constructed using gene editing. Others feel the doctor’s accomplishment should be celebrated as the new frontier of disease prevention, some publications going as far as drawing comparisons between gene editing and vaccines.
Dr. Jiankui edited the genes of a couple whereas the man was HIV positive. AIDs groups in China referred a number of couples to Jiankui for experimentation purposes. In China, HIV is a growing concern.
CRISPR Technology Not The Best Solution For HIV
Some medical professionals believe that removal of the CCR5 from the embryos is a less efficient method of HIV prevention. And, extremely costly, to boot. The editing of embryos during an IVF procedure would use extremely costly technology.
Unaffordable Technology Creates A Number Of Complex Dilemmas
The high-cost factor presents a couple of different problems.
For one, the procedure couldn’t logically be deployed in regions that experience high HIV density. It would be completely unaffordable. Therefore, it remains hardly a relevant HIV “prevention” talking point.
Additionally, the expensive technology would only find its way into the hands of those with a means to pay for its use. The CRISPR tool uses “molecular scissors” to edit genes. That’s pricey.
When focusing on the “designer baby” aspect of the dilemma, that exposes a whole new slew of issues. The wealthiest in our world could use such technology to create a more powerful race or gender or any number of other undertakings. World governments with nefarious intentions must be bursting at the seams while considering the full breadth of empowerment that gene editing could offer a culture, society, or nation.
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In a world hyper-focused on identity politics, adding gene editing into the mix is certain to create disturbing results. Remember, once scientists edit genes in a human, that human’s offspring pass on the edited genes. This means that you can forever change, alter, enhance, or harm, the entire future generation of a family.
Strong Backlash By Scientific Community
The concern over Jiankui’s experiment is more than palpable.
“Here you have a scientist changing the human race, and you have a YouTube video about it, with no [scientific] paper. It’s just almost surreal,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “This guy must have just remarkable chutzpah to proceed. Basically for the first time in history, he has used this powerful tool in a reckless way for no good reason.”
Jiankui is also under heavy criticism for breaking international gene editing agreements. Jennifer Doudna, one of CRISPR’s creators, was highly critical of Jiankui’s announcement, saying, “I couldn’t guarantee to you that he did what he claimed. It’s very disturbing. It’s inappropriate.”
It’s Already In The Process Again (Because, yeah)
Adding to the controversy is Jiankui’s announcement that a second woman is now due to birth a gene edited baby (Because, we knew it wouldn’t stop with one).
Gene Editing: A Future In Limbo
Jiankui’s announcement has shaken the scientific community to its core. Let’s be honest, gene editing of embryos offers a slew of positive and negative consequences. Unfortunately, the evil among us often perpetuates the latter. That could lead us down a road even our most drama-laden Sci-Fi movies haven’t scripted up.
Its clear by Jiankui’s second announcement that gene editing is happening and isn’t likely to be stopped. Pandora’s box is now wide open. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Author: Jim Satney
PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.