‘A Superhuman – Made in China’ A Controversial Chinese Gene-Editing Experiment
The headline sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. But one thing about sci-fi movies, there is always an ounce of reality or rather an entry point for a plausible possibility if further research and development are to be undertaken. Sure they are the works of an over imaginative producer, but then doesn’t all inventions come from an over imaginative inventor?
Sci-fi movies aside, there is a group of Chinese scientists who are becoming a little bit over imaginative themselves. The scientists are said to be currently tinkering the human embryos’ DNA using a controversial technique the genetics community refer to as ‘gene-editing’. This controversial move has attracted both concern and curiosity from a group of Hub researchers.
Without going ‘too-geeky’ on you, the Chinese scientists are said to be using a method known as the CRISPR-Cas9. Now, what this means is that the scientists are adding to taking away ‘genetic codes’ from the DNA. This act will enable them to modify any genetic defects in the ‘specimen’ potentially. This genetics technology has been carried out in other species of the kingdom Animalia but never on the Homo sapiens species (human beings), and this is where the Chinese scientists are becoming controversial.
It is said, the scientists carried out this experiment on 86 human embryos that were fertilized in a clinic. The product of a fusion of one ovary with two sperms as opposed to one sperm, which is the norm; and thus, are not expected to survive. This is according to a report featured in last week’s Journal of the Protein & Cell.
Dr. Robert Green, a geneticist from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is also the head of a newborn gene-sequencing project dubbed BabySeq, said: “I think that this is both exciting and disturbing. It’s exciting because I think we all recognize the promise of gene editing to someday in the future ameliorate human suffering.
It’s disturbing because there is a strong consensus that a tremendous amount of foundational work needs to be accomplished before even considering this application in human embryos.”
The bold move by the Chinese scientist to conduct ‘gene-editing’ experiments on human embryos has elicited a lot of criticism from the scientists and bioethicists community. Most of whom warn that the technology is simply not developed enough to warrant genome editing in human embryos.
Dr. Green further said, “I think at this time there’s a great deal of hesitation, and perhaps a consensus forming that it’s inappropriate to be experimenting in this manner.”
Critics of the study and experimentation of human genome warn that unchecked access to human’s DNA could lead to covert attempts to manufacture a superhuman. This also begs the question. Is it ethical to modify human DNA without having explicit consent from the ‘specimen’ in question?
According to Dr. George Q. Daley, the Director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. ‘Gene-editing’ should be explored, but, just not yet, to be applied given the current limitations of the technology.
“With current technologies, it’s highly unsafe. I’m comfortable seeing this technology researched. But I would be strongly opposed to seeing it practiced in the clinic.”