Designer Babies: “A Terrifying New Chapter In Gene Editing”

Is the CRISPR baby controversy the start of a terrifying new chapter in gene editing?

Vox.com – A Chinese scientist shocked the world this week when he reported — through a well-coordinated media campaign that involved an AP exclusive and YouTube videos — that he’d created the world’s first babies genetically edited with CRISPR: a set of twin girls, with a third potential CRISPR baby on the way.

Nearly a week later, He Jiankui’s experiment still hasn’t been fully vetted. But it represents the realization of the fears of many scientists who believe CRISPR isn’t yet safe and precise enough to be used in human embryos.

He says he’s “proud” of his work — and that it has more to do with public health than “designer babies,” since his aim was to eliminate the risk of HIV infection in the babies.

But if a rogue scientist tinkering quietly in a lab can smash through norms and meddle with the human genome to feed his own ego or scientific curiosity, the worry is that many more dangerous applications of CRISPR could be in store.

What if others are experimenting with CRISPR in ways that threaten human life? What if they’re using CRISPR to enhance human traits, ushering in a new era of genetic inequality?

Still, while some are calling He reckless, others are calling this a timely and necessary next chapter in the CRISPR story. Let’s unpack the controversy.

We still don’t know if these CRISPR babies really exist

The past several years in science have unleashed the CRISPR revolution. CRISPR/Cas9 — or CRISPR, as it’s known — is a tool that allows researchers to attempt to control which genes get expressed in plants, animals, and even humans; to delete undesirable traits and, potentially, add desirable traits; and to do all this more quickly, and with more precision, than ever before. Read more.