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Is it time to create Designer Babies?

By Vivek Kumar on June 14, 2019

Gene Editing Using CISPR: Cure or Creating Humans

A father or mother who suffering from AIDS  wants to know if there is a way to prevent his/her child from AIDS. Though AIDS is not a genetic disease but the answer lies in the genome which is genetic material.

Hans Winkler, professor of botany at the University of Hamburg, Germany derived the term genome in 1920. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the name is an amalgamation of the words gene and chromosome. Basically, a genome is the genetic material of an organism that consists of DNA (or RNA in RNA viruses). It also comprises the genes (the coding regions) and the noncoding of DNA. This field of study of the genome is termed as genomics.

Probably you are thinking, “ I don’t have any idea of the genome”.  Well if you have seen the movie or read the novel Jurassic park then you know what I am talking about. Yes, you guessed right. I am pointing towards how a geneticist extracts dinosaur DNA from the blood of ancient mosquitoes and fills in the gaps with DNA from modern species to create a variety of dinosaurs. And I think it could be possible.

So basically genome is an ID card which consists of our inheritance information whether its good or bad. In genome editing researchers are trying to manipulate the ID card(genome) by removing, adding or altering bad information(DNA).

First Human Gene Editing Experiment

He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysics researcher became famous in 2018 after he had acclaimed that he had forged the first ever human genetically edited babies twin girls known by their pseudonyms, Lulu and Nana, who were delivered prematurely by C-section. The announcement was met with widespread condemnation, why? I will tell you.

The experiment had recruited couples who wanted to have children; in order to participate, the man had to be HIV-positive and the woman, uninfected. He said that he took sperm and eggs from the couples, performed in vitro fertilization with them, and then edited the genomes of the embryos using CRISPR. In simple words, the researcher ‘cut' the bad part i.e. CCR5 (which is responsible for causing HIV) and ‘paste’ the copy.

He Jiankui spoke at the second international summit on human genome editing in Hong Kong.

We know how young Chinese children train for future Olympics. Teenagers are more often sent to sports schools to endure grueling training for the goal of achieving Olympic medals. But, this Chinese scientist took this on another level by trying to create advance children for the goal of achieving much more.

Why Chinese Scientists Have Caused An Uproar?

Because He Jiankui's human gene-editing clinical experiment was conducted without public discussion in the scientific community and was considered unethical. gene editing for HIV prevention was "justifiable" since HIV is "a major and growing public health threat", but the problem is that it seemed the researchers' main focus was on testing editing rather than avoiding this disease.

But that’s not stopping Russian biologist Denis Rebrikov, who is planning to edit more human embryos — and bring them to term. Rebrikov plans to target CCR5, the same gene as He, which could theoretically make the babies immune to HIV.

So, What Is The Problem?

Definitely, scientists want to use gene editing as a way of eliminating disease-causing mutations.BUT
  1. Experts say the risks are unknowns including the possibility of premature death vastly outweigh any potential benefits.
  2. Generally, gene therapies are too expensive to afford for now and only wealthy people can think about this. 
  3. Altering the traits of future generations could lead to wealthy parents purchasing genetic “upgrades” for their offspring.
  4. This could create a new reason for discrimination and create divisions between normal and genetical advance.
  5. If the gene is disabled, the child will be vulnerable and identifying some health effects could take years or generations.
  6. Edits in the germline not just affect the child but would be passed down through generations.

Gene editing and mapping technologies have huge potential that enables scientists to make changes to DNA to reduce disease risk but there are still Technical barriers and Ethical Concerns. As humans, it boils down to the user intention. For example, the Internet is one of the most exciting and powerful inventions of the 20th century. But it is difficult to ignore its negative uses and influences.

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