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A Chinese scientist says he has produced the world’s first genetically-edited human babies, twin girls born earlier this month.
Scientists, start your hand-wringing: Ever since two different teams of scientists developed the CRISPR method of gene-editing, a huge advancement in selectively extracting or adding genes, the scientific community has debated its ramifications and ethical implications, especially in regards to its use on humans. Some countries, including the United States, specifically prohibited CRISPR’s use on human embryos as they weigh the ethical and societal impact.
A breakthrough, but no evidence: Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims he altered a gene in the twins’ embryos before they were implanted in the mother’s womb. The objective of the edit was to give the babies added resistance to infection with H.I.V.
Although the New York Times spoke with experts in the field who know He’s work and said it was entirely feasible he did accomplish the feat, the scientist has not yet offered any concrete proof of the procedure and hasn’t published his research in any journal. Chinese officials have also expressed dismay, while He told the Associated Press that he wanted to set an example for appropriate use of the technology.
“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” he told the A.P. “Society will decide what to do next.”
Slippery slope: While there is the potential to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases and other issues, if the technology to easily edit fine details of our offspring becomes readily available, many scientists and ethicist fear a run on designer babies, tweaks to eye and hair color, intelligence, height and athletic ability.
Additionally, the tools are relatively young and there is still the risk that when one alteration is made for a specific reason it could affect other genes in unforeseen ways.