Gene-Edited Babies Reportedly Born in China. What Could Go Wrong?

Live Science
Date:  November 26, 2018
By: Yasemin Saplakoglu, Staff Writer

Credit: Science Photo Library – KTSDESIGN/Getty Images

A scientist in China may have used a powerful gene-editing tool to snip out unwanted genes from human embryos, creating the first genetically modified humans and bringing a dystopian future feared by many one step closer.

The scientist, He Jiankui, claimed in a video he posted online yesterday (Nov. 25) that he had used CRISPR-Cas9 — a gene-editing tool that has revolutionized the field of genetics in the past decade — to delete a gene in human embryos in order to make the babies resistant to HIV. He said in the video that those embryos have developed into two healthy babies: a set of twins named Lulu and Nana. The twins “came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago,” He said in the video. [Genetics by the Numbers: 10 Tantalizing Tales]

The scientist’s claim has not been verified — indeed, the hospital named in He’s ethical-approval documents has denied any involvement in the procedure, CNN reported — but the scientific community has still responded to the claim with outrage and concern, according to news reports. Indeed, even setting aside the very real ethical concerns of using this technology to manipulate human genes, many scientists believe that such alterations could have far-reaching and unforeseen health problems.

It’s true that the modification He made to the embryos “will prevent HIV infection,” said Mazhar Adli, a geneticist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. The problem, however, is that the deleted gene, called CCR5, “has many more functions than just aiding HIV infection,” Adli told Live Science — including helping white blood cells function properly.

The gene may also play a role in helping prevent West Nile virus infection, so snipping it out of the genome likely makes a person more susceptible to the disease, said Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute, in a statementissued in response to the news. Zhang was one of the scientists that pioneered the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology.    [FULL  STORY]