The Future of Genetics

Jolie Hoppes, Reporter

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Scientist He Jiankui in China used Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) technology to make twin girls that he says are Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) resistant.

Jiankui works at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology.

According to Broad Institute, CRISPR works by cutting out a string of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). CRISPR sequences are made into a ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequence that match specific DNA strands. Then, an enzyme produced by CRISPR–CRISPR Associated Protein Nine(Cas-9)–binds to the piece of DNA and cuts it out.

The reason he pursued this project was so he could help people with HIV.

“For this specific case, I feel proud,” Jiankui said according to an NBC interview.

CRISPR is the most precise way to alter DNA; however, it can still have negative effects on the person. For example the virus could edit other genes, causing unexpected results.

Mosaicism is another issue in the process of genome editing. This is when only some cells in an organism have been successfully altered. If they aren’t all successfully altered, the organism would not be immune to the disease the researcher is trying to make it immune to.

However, the project can lead to multiple discoveries in the genetics field.

The project could also lead to improvement in genetic engineering techniques. Not only could these techniques cure cancer and other diseases, but it could engineer humans to be stronger or even smarter than ever before.

Jiankui said that the twins are, indeed, resistant to HIV. Also, he assures people that the babies are perfectly healthy. Although, he does not have any peer-supported data to prove this.(Wired)

Many people are resistant to the idea of changing the genes of an embryo. Other scientists want proof that Jiankui complied with ethical laws. Dr. David Palmer said, “I don’t think it has been a transparent process. We only found out about it after it happened, so we feel left out” (NBC).

Some scientists think that there is no way to make an experiment like this ethical. “Certain uses of science should be judged intolerable, and cause scientists to be cast out. The use of CRISPR to edit human embryos or germ line cells should fall into that bucket. Anything less puts the science and the entire scientific enterprise at risk,” says Dr. Scott Golieb reported by NBC.

Harmonicare Medical Holdings Ltd., the hospital whose ethics committee signed off on Jiankui’s project, claims that he forged the ethics committees’ signatures on his application from the hospital’s medical ethics committee.(Bloomburg)

Jiankui has said that he wants his technology to remain used for healing illnesses and does not want it being taken advantage of by humans; for example, making intelligence quotient (I.Q.) higher or for changing superficial things like appearances.

If this project is to continue, then Jiankui’s research will need to be peer-reviewed and checked, as well as his procedure to make sure it was ethical.

In the future, however, there will be more to debate, because legislation must change to make this perfectly legal and to set limitations on how humans will be able to use genetic engineering, if at all, in the future.

Jiankui hasn’t made another appearance in over a week.