Recombinant genetic engineering was invented almost five decades ago, and only recently it was applied to a human embryo. Presumably, humanity has shown surprising patience in the use of this technology. Today she has an ambiguous reputation, but is it safe to say that centuries later, many people who are carriers of genetic modification will look back and condemn the scientists who created their future today? Will they call a scientist from China, who practically created the first genetic engineering embryo, Copernicus of our time?

The Chinese scientist He Jiankui is a prime example of a reckless gene-editing researcher. Allegedly, he forged documents and used untested technologies on humans while conducting his research, which culminated in the births of the first gene-edited babies in November.

At the end of last week in the American press appeared information that a biologist from Columbia University, Dieter Egli is conducting his own human gene-editing research - but rather than endanger human lives, like He’s research did, Egli’s could help save them.

According to reports, Egli is using CRISPR to gene-edit human embryos in a way that would allow a baby to avoid inheriting a genetic defect that can lead to blindness. This is the same CRISPR technique He used, but unlike the Chinese researcher, Egli destroys his embryos just one day after editing them. “Right now we are not trying to make babies,” Egli told. “None of these cells will go into the womb of a person.”

Also unlike He, a panel of other scientists and bioethicists oversees Egli’s research, reviewing his plans prior to any experiments in the lab.

According to Egli, the kind of research he is conducting is essential if we ever want to actually use CRISPR to prevent humans from inheriting genetic diseases, including many fatal ones.

“We can’t just do the editing and then hope everything goes right and implant that into a womb. That’s not responsible,” he told. “We have to first do the basic research studies to see what happens. That’s what we’re doing here.”

CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna appears to agree.

“Is there value in doing that kind of research? I think there is,” she told. “Does it have to be carried out carefully and under the right regulatory guidelines? Of course. But I think there’s value in doing research like that.”

Of course, some critics think scientists shouldn’t conduct any kind of gene-editing research on humans.

“We don’t need to be mucking around with the genes of future children,” says human biotechnology expert Marcy Darnovsky. “This could open the door to a world where people who were born genetically modified are thought to be superior to others, and we would have a society of people who are considered to be genetic haves and genetic have-nots.”

And maybe that’s true. If one treats frivolously the uncontrolled introduction into our lives of the results of the ambitious aspirations of bioengineers, this can really lead to the creation of a new society with new forms of inequality and biological discrimination against the background of existing ones, not to mention social justice and human rights. But do we not live in such a society just now! And then, why do we need inventions and discoveries, including CRISPR, if we do not try to extract the maximum benefit from them for people, at the same time minimizing the harm they can do!

Meanwhile ... a Chinese geneticist He Jiankui recently said that, in addition to having two children with an edited genome, a third child with an edited DNA is expected to be born soon as part of the same project.


Based on US NPR (National Public Radio)

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