CRISPR

First Genome-Edited Babies?

If it's safe, then it's ethical. No need for a global moratorium.

|

HeJiankui
He Jiankui

Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced on November 26 that he had used CRISPR technology to edit the genomes of embryos who have now been born as twin baby girls.

Keep in mind that He's research has not been published or otherwise independently verified. Even publication is no guarantee of truth, as the 2006 South Korean human cloning fakery should remind us.

That said, He claims to have edited embryos' genomes for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He says his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease but to disable a gene, called CCR5, that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV to infect a cell. People who inherit this trait naturally resist HIV infection.

He says that he practiced CRISPR editing on mice, monkey, and human embryos for several years before applying his techniques to human embryos. In these cases, the male parents were all infected with HIV and were seeking to make sure that their offspring would be immune to becoming infected with this virus. In one twin, all of her cells were edited so as to knock out the CCR5 gene; in the other, only some cells were. This means that the second twin could still become infected with HIV.

To edit the embryos, He says, his team injected a single sperm into each egg to create an embryo and then added the CRISPR construct to some with the instructions for precisely editing the CCR5 gene. After the embryos had grown for three to five days, He took cells from each embryos to check to see if the editing had worked. The couples involved could choose to try implanting either edited or unedited embryos.

This effort has been widely denounced as unethical experimentation on human beings. Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of CRISPR editing, has called for a global moratorium on using the technology to create gene-edited babies. Some research suggests that while knocking out the CCR5 would help the twins resist HIV infection, they might become more susceptible to infection by West Nile virus.

But not all researchers joined wholeheartedly in condemning the use of CRISPR editing on human embryos. The Harvard geneticist George Church has said that he thinks that the research is "justifiable."

One problem with CRISPR editing is that it sometimes introduces mutations far from the gene at which it is aimed at correcting. Such off-target mutations could obviously cause other problems. Researchers are working hard to make CRISPR editing ever more precise.

If parents were given the choice of implanting either edited or unedited embryos, and if they were adequately informed about the risks of using CRISPR technology, then that is where decisions about the ethics of using this technology should properly rest. There is no need for global moratorium.

Advertisement

NEXT: More Drones, More Bombs, More Deaths—Our Machine of Military Intervention Grinds On

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The devil of course is in the details. Whether it is “safe or not” depends no only on its effect on one case but a whole host of second order effects that may or may not be known. If it is the case that the only effect of having this gene is to be immune from HIV, then it is safe. But, other changes might not be so benign and the negative effects not immediately obvious. It would be a mistake to call these procedures risk free.

    1. You’re not wrong, but when will this procedure be officially “risk-free?” How long do we have to wait? What’s the rubric for calculating the precise moment when we can use CRISPR on human embryos? Has the scientific community gotten consensus on that?

      1. No procedure can be expected to be risk free. But I think it is fair to at least demand that we know the risks. People can’t consent to something unless they understand what they are consenting to.

        My point is not that there cannot be risks. It is that we don’t know the risks and that is the problem.

        1. Doctor: “I have this new procedure that’s never been tried on humans. We have lots of experience on animals. Do you want to try this?”

          How’s that for consent of risks? Does that meet your standards?

          1. Meets my standards!!!! WHY is that not good enough for “democracy” and “bioethics nannies”?

            1. Have fun. I would never say you couldn’t try whatever you like. Just don’t expect anyone to care if it doesn’t work out. Sadly, people are all about taking risks but have a bad habit of not being so into taking responsibility when those risks go south.

              1. Hey, is this a giant can of worms, or what?!?!? I use good old-fashioned crap-shoot reproduction methods, and if my kid has 9,345,876 kinds of defects… Especially after he or she is 18… I can say, “I am done, hit the road, defective one”, and my friends and family, church, etc., may frown on me, but per the law, I am free as a bird!

                I try to improve the odds (against having a some sort of “tard-turd” or other, fill in yer fave un-PC term here) by invoking a wee tad of engineering and science to prevent such things, and ????, who knows, the sky may be the limit, as to whether I will be tarred and feathered, or tortured forever, if a tard-turd is the result of my experiment! Or if a superior super-human makes-me-look-bad is the result, too!!!

                What gives; can we have some peace and tolerance around here?!??!

          2. It wouldn’t work for me unless I had a really bad need for the treatment. But if you want to become a human guinne pig on the off chance you might get some benefit, have fun. I would never deny you the right to do so. That, however, doesn’t make your decision a very good one.

          3. Is it a cancer treatment for a terminal patient?

            Or is it a gene editing therapy for a child who doesn’t have a disease?

        2. People can’t consent to something unless they understand what they are consenting to.

          It’s preferable that people don’t, but nah, you can totally consent to something without really understanding it. I mean, marriage, amiright?

          1. Can you really call that consent, though? It’s more like a surrender.

        3. Since the babies can’t consent to their genes being edited, does that mean gene editing is an NAP violation?

          Wait a second……no one agrees to being conceived. Why, the very act of conception is an NAP violation. Oh my god, Nikki was right all along!

          1. So because nature would do something anyway, that gives you the right to do it? So, if nature makes me bald, you have a right to shave my head? I mean nature is going to do it anyway. So why not?

            You are just rationalizing your desire to enforce your will on someone else without their consent.

            1. Resolution to this conundrum = ….

              Random shit happens! Or, guano transpires, if you like high-brow language!

              Guano transpires, whether we want it to, or not; whether we like it, or not. Just because guano transpires (“it is natural”) does not mean that it is good or desirable. If you want your guano to transpire for you, then let your guano transpire for you, on your dime, on your pad, in your time and space. But please do NOT make MY guano transpire for MEEEE!!!!

              (I want Cheez-Whizz and Mogen David fortified wines for me; no guano need apply).

              1. Fecal matter hits the rotary air circulation device.

            2. For fear of putting stock in a bunk pro-life argument, by having sex you’re making a conscious choice to possibly have a baby.

              So regardless of how have the baby, the “nature” way or with the help of a professional, you’re still knowingly creating a baby without it’s consent.

              As such, if it’s a NAP violation to have a gene-edited baby, it’s a NAP violation to have a “natural” baby.

        4. Do you have precise knowledge of the risks of going to the grocery store today? What about the risks of aspartame?
          No, humans never have perfect information. We never “know the risks,” we only have less or more knowledge of the risks.

          Briefing someone on the risks includes briefing them on the degree to which your knowledge of the risks is believed to be incomplete.

      2. “Has the scientific community gained consensus”

        No

        Because it is evolving new technology and consensus rarely happens even in established areas.

        Medical science often proves itself wrong.

        That is a feature, not a bug 🙂

    2. Agree with you John. I saw I am Legend; we may not know for some time the second, third, or fourth order effects of this to be able to judge whether it is “safe.”

      1. Stupid humans, messing around with stuff they don’t know enough about to properly assess the risks. I remember as a kid watching a documentary about some Japanese scientists conducting nuclear bomb testing deep in the Pacific ocean and unexpectedly waking up Godzilla.

        1. Yeah, yeah. I’m sure someone said the same damn thing about fire 10,000 years ago.

          Damn Luddites.

      2. Shaddap and gimme my de-extincted mammoth already!

  2. Who else sees the Chinese tieing this into their social rankings to try to create a “better citizen”.

    1. Indeed. They will identify all the genes for resisting authority, call them mental disease genes, and make their removal mandatory. We are fucked.

  3. I go back and forth with this, the implications for the development of this technology creeps me out. In theory nothing but upside, but in my uneducated unscientific reptile mind horrifying progressive/nazi eugenics programs are going to come out of this.

    1. Well, I can see downsides… The irresponsible youngster wants to create a man-bear-pig, just to be “cool”, or a vampire with sharp teeth and an inborn lust to drink blood. Or Curt Cobaine reincarnated thinks that suicide is way-way-cool… I do think I recall him thinking that at times… So I want to re-engineer my kids with WAY-high suicidal tendencies, to be just like me!!! ‘Cause suicide is cool!!!

      So yeah, I can see limits being needed… They are WAY out there in time, still, WAY past curing diseases and defects, and then just accentuating the positives, for now…

      1. “The irresponsible youngster wants to create a man-bear-pig, just to be “cool”,”

        What’s cool about man-bear-pig? No, what the young male want’s is cat girls…

  4. Power to the people! At least in China, they believe in that… Let parents decide!

    In the USA? TBD… ***IF*** the Bible-Bangers and the Luddites make allies of themselves and declare that all CRISPR-edited babies are “monster babies” and a hazard to us all, then we will be faced with this: All fertile-aged women returning from overseas (or maybe even floating hospitals out in international waters, there for evading the Mighty USA Nanny Sate), will have to be forcefully inspected for implanted “monster babies” from overseas, where they have more freedoms than here. How DARE you try to escape diseases and defects; do ye want to be BETTER than us!? (We could also pass laws against better roads and cars; less accidents reduces the cripples among us, thereby reducing diversity… This is “genocide against cripples”, this business of safer roads and cars!!!)

    Your crimes will be punished with forced abortions of all those carrying “monster babies”!!!

    1. “Power to the people! At least in China, they believe in that… Let parents decide!”

      Gonna have to disagree with that statement.

  5. This adds minuscule experimentation to that brought on by random fertile coitus.

    Just like GMO foods, the damn fools would rather massive unknown experimentation than a single edit. Yes, there’s a chance of botching the edit; but massive unknown natural recombination introduces far more chances of errors than this one edit.

    It’s like counting paper clips as assets to stave off bankruptcy, or walking around under ten tons of armor to mitigate meteorite hits.

    1. Let’s say for the sake of argument science can perfect this stuff and we can now have every child be a designer child free from any perceieved defects. Everyone can be tall, good looking, smart, and whatever else fits the current fashion.

      You don’t think an entire world of people designed to fit the prevailing fashion at the time they were born might not create some adverse effects? That perhaps the randomness and diversity found in nature serves larger functions the full importance of which we have yet to grasp?

      I understand it is a hard question. Who doesn’t want to be healthy? But I don’t think it is such an obvious question as you make it out to be. People are not rows of corn. I don’t think this is analogous to GM foods.

      1. This is a good point; diversity sometimes has unforseen benefits. The LAST place we’d want to mess with diversity is in our genes for resistance to communicable diseases. What if we encounter new diseases, and have lost all immunity? We’d be near a “monocrop” species as in in agriculture; very susceptible to a new virus, bacteria, etc.

        In a far-far distant time, we might live in sterile environments, and-or understand communicable diseases so well that this concern will fade away.

        1. That is a very good point. Maybe the people who are not immune to HIV are immune to something else out there that we don’t know about because so few people are suspeptable to it. Clearly, we don’t know. But, the number of people immune to HIV is like 1% of the population or some simlarly small number. It is entirely possible there is some other bacteria or virus that is lurking in the world that is worse than HIV but only those who are succeptable to HIV are immune. Make everyone immune to HIV and suddenly that virus or bacteria can spead throughout the population.

          I just do not believe that all of this is as simple and easy as is being portrayed.

          1. Yes prophet, YES!!!

            GO FORTH AND PREACH IN MY NAME!!!

            1. Hey dumb ass. If the precautionary principle were valid in every circumstance, there would be no such thing as a bad action.

              Try understanding concepts before deploying them. Just because it is sometimes more harmful not to act doesn’t mean it is always a good idea to do so. I wonder sometimes how some of the people out there even feed themselves much less live on their own.

              1. YES!! Your cowardice is righteous!!! Your bowel-quaking terror is just!!!

                YOU ARE TRULY A PROPHET OF MY CHURCH AND WILL HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN THE. AFTERLIFE!!!

                Proselytize IN MY NAME BELIEVER!!!

                1. Do the world a favor. Go out and run across a busy street. Don’t be a coward. Don’t worry about the risks of walking across without looking. Whatever they are, they couldn’t be the same as standing there.

                  Please, do the gene pool a favor and live by your convictions.

                  1. Do the world a favor. Never ever ever ever ever cross the street. You can’t possibly have perfect information about what will happen no matter how many times you looked. Live by your convictions.

                2. HOW DARE YOU CLAIM ONE OF MY CONGREGANTS AS YOUR OWN!!!

                  He is MINE. MINE, AND HE WILL SPREAD MY WORD, not YOUR sacrilege!!!

                  1. And you continue to use words the meaning of which you do not understand.

                  2. NO BLASPHEMER!!! HIS DREAD IS MINE!!! HE WILL SPREAD HIS TREPIDATION AND IN MY NAME AND NONE OTHER!!!

                    1. He is in my thrall you FOOL, his distress is IN MY DEMESNE!!! DO NOT TEST ME!!!

                    2. We need not war over a simple tool that can work fo us both. Let us commingle and discuss how best to use this …ahem … congregant.

                    3. This is why we can’t have nice things and why it is impossible to have a serious discussion on here. We have about four retards who are not content with being incapable of having a rational conversation and feel the need to prevent everyone else from doing what they cannot.

                    4. PREACH IN MY NAME!!! YOU ARE THE HIGHEST OF MY TOOLS ON EARTH!!! LET NO ADVANCE SUCCEED UNTIL IT HAS SATISFIED YOU AND RELEIVED YOU OF YOUR HOLY PANIC!!

                    5. Give breath to my teachings, and recieve my blessing which looks like Polio and Measles but totally isnt.

                    6. “rational ”

                      YES!!! YOUR DISMAY IS RATIONAL!! LET NO ONE MOVE YOU FROM THIS MY PROPHET!!!

                    7. John|11.26.18 @ 3:52PM|#

                      This is why we can’t have nice things and why it is impossible to have a serious discussion on here.

                      *FWEEEET*

                      I’m gonna need to see a badge son or I’m taking you in for impersonating a threadcop.

                    8. I am… amused.

          2. I just do not believe that all of this is as simple and easy as is being portrayed.

            Well sure, but you also shouldn’t believe that the news media does a good job of reporting on “science”, and that the actual scientists and engineers believe that it’s a as simple and easy as is being portrayed.

            Or to put it another way… imagine a news article written about something from your own line of work (whatever that may be). If someone read that article and said “nah, I can’t believe it’s that simple and easy”, would you not agree with them? “Correct! That article simplified a lot of things for a lay audience, it’s actually much more complicated! If you have a couple of hours and a strong background in the relevant foundational principles, I can do a better job of explaining it all- hey, where are you going?”

            1. Yes. If I had to place a bet, I would bet that gene editing never comes close to living up to its promise and as a result never becomes effective enough to even create the risks that I am talking about. I said, “suppose this is perfected”, that is a huge assumption and something I am very skeptical will ever occur in my lifetime.

              So, you make a fair point. My concerns are largely theoretical and likely to remain so for the foreseable future despite the wishful thinking of journalists like Bailey.

      2. You don’t think an entire world of people designed to fit the prevailing fashion at the time they were born might not create some adverse effects? That perhaps the randomness and diversity found in nature serves larger functions the full importance of which we have yet to grasp?

        Sure. But that’s not really a fair question, is it?

        The proper question isn’t “will there be adverse effects?”, it’s “are those adverse effects worse then the world we’re getting rid of?”

        And that in itself also isn’t a fair question, as it’s very likely that until we accept a few generations of experimenting with the unknowns, we really won’t know how bad it could get.

        But me? I’ll take the unknown future over the known horribleness.

        1. But me? I’ll take the unknown future over the known horribleness.

          I would submit that is because you both overrate the effectiveness of science and lack the imagination to appreciate how much more horrible things could actually be.

      3. Good God No! Look at the way names come and go, or clothing styles, or hair length, or beards. People can’t agree on this simple shit, why would they suddenly march in lock-step in genes? Sure, parents would choose fads — green eyes, different colored eyes, someone would develop cat eyes. Different patches of hair color. Arm muscles more than leg muscles. They’d copy whatever entertainer was designed 20 years before, next year it would eb a different model.

        There’s no more danger of this ruining humanity than raccoon coats or punk mohawks or penis piercings.

        1. Sure fashion would change. But the uniformity within generations could be a problem. Also, is it fair to create your child in whatever image you decide? It is one thing for nature to do it. A choice has to be made in some way. But do I as your parent have the right to decide what you look like and what your abilities will be when you are not around to consent? I think it is reasonable to say I don’t. Who am I to decide that someone else should have blue eyes or brown hair or be of a certain height?

          1. It’s better to create a random child than a designed one?

            Who are you to decide?

            Fuck off, slaver. None of your damned business.

            1. You are the one claiming the right to decide for other people who haven’t even been born. And I am the slaver? No. You are the slaver. It never occurs to you that your creation might have a will and desires of its own. It is all about you and your power. You are just claiming a right to enforce your will on an unwilling party because “well nature would do it anyway”. Nature does a lot of things. That fact doesn’t make your doing it any less wrong.

              So, yeah, fuck off slaver. Sorry but you can’t create your fantasy slave army.

          2. ? I think you just argued against parenthood.

            1. Parenthood is a test in learning to love someone who is part of you and your spouse, even if they are a mash up of the worst in both of you.

              It makes us better people to learn to love the imperfect or less than what we would wish for.

              I can understand why that would be unappealing to some of you people, learning to love your mini-you.

      4. I’ve been rewatching Babylon 5 (RIP Harlan) and pondering the implications of humans bioengineered as weapons, the social implications, and the all but inevitable civil war when homo superior arrives on the scene and the mundanes refuse to go quietly into the night. Killer AI seems quaint by comparison.

        Yea, it is probably a few centuries into the future, but it is foolish to think this technology will end with just designer babies, and the impossibility of putting the genie back into the bottle after it’s done. Self-preservation is powerful instinct that we can barely contend with now.

        So yea, do what ever you want, but I’d like to know what the Plan B is when the technology goes south and we reach beyond perfectly pert breasts.

  6. This is the same country that designed the Banqiao Dam? Pass.

    1. It’s also the country that built a great wall that has successfully kept out Mexicans for a thousand years.

      1. The best wall, greatest wall of all time. Look you can see it from space.

        1. And in the end, the Mexicans (I mean Mongols) still just went around the end of the wall.

      2. They also invented noodles.

    2. A guy in a lab coat says this is a good idea. What else do you want? Science denier.

    3. They have learned from their mistakes Fist.

    4. They’re gonna get it right with the three gorges, though.

  7. So you have a Chinese scientist who says he has been successful in doing this one time. Of course, the “defect” corrected for one disease might not be a defect for another disease, and the process can cause unintended mutations elsewhere.

    The ethical problem is that this is not an exact science in understanding what we are doing or in execution, and the process only works on embryos who cannot consent to being experimented on. This would seem to suggest ethically that this should not be used for frivolous purposes on humans.

    1. Its a guy in a labcoat Mickey. How could he possibly be wrong?

      1. I am afraid I do not have Bailey’s faith in scientism.

    2. Natural human reproduction is not an exact science and the embryos can’t possibly consent to being experimented on.

  8. Fake news. Everyone knows that the Chinese would only create male children.

    1. Now they can create male children with actual back pussies. No need for those pesky, low prestige females!

      1. I hear what you are saying… That could be combined with the below, perhaps…

        While we’re at it, why not women who look like this… (Scroll down in the link just a wee tad for the picture)…

        ? http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0310/S00003.htm ?

        PLUS, they are cyborg-women-cows, with a touch-pad keyboard for what EXACT kind of liquid (booze, nectar, ambrosia) that you want to be dispensed!!!!

  9. seems stupid place to draw line on science-train.

  10. I am entirely comfortable letting people do whatever stupid thing they want to do with their own bodies.

    I’m also comfortable “letting” the parents make important decisions for their children.

    This strikes me as a bad idea. I don’t know what, if anything, should be done about it, but this particular case seems like a bad idea.

  11. So he killed at least 6 viable fertilized embryos so that the pair that survived could act sexually irresponsible when they become sexually active later in life. Sounds like a fair trade off.

    1. How could there be anything wrong ethically with that?

    2. And the HPV Vaccine is just a slut drug.

      I’m tempted to say “y’all are unbelievable sometimes” but honestly, this kind of reaction is far too tragically believable

  12. Even publication is no guarantee of truth

    No, but it does allow eyes to see it.

  13. Weren’t the involuntary pioneers of genome editing the Thalidomide babies? Thalidomide was Big Pharma’s replacement for marijuana–except as treatment for corns–so that prohibition could benefit them a little longer. Was this not a noble experiment worth bragging about?

  14. I saw this movie. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman stared in Gattaca. I give it a 7.5

  15. it is outrageous and authoritarian to suggest that it must be safe to be ethical. An embryo has no rights. You may ethically do anything you wish to them on a whim, unless that whim would hurt an actual person, maybe by dropping them in the water supply or hitting someone over the head with a container full of them.

  16. I don’t see how parents can be considered adequately informed of the risks if nothing has been published and reviewed and there has been no discussion among the experts.

  17. ‘If it’s safe then it’s ethical’.

    Then so is taking candy from babies.

  18. C’mon
    As of now nobody knows if this guy did anything he claims.

    If he did it was certainly unethical.

    You can experiment on humans. It is called a clinical trial and there are all sorts of things you need to do before you can initiate that.

    Chinese docs and medical scientists, real ones know this.

    I have seen a lot of sciency news clips about this sort of thing and most amount to nothing much.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.