China’s edited baby made headline news all across the world and many were concerned about what the affects will be on future generations. It was both a historic and scary event as all the crazy things you’ve seen in movies about creating freak creations in the lab are now not so farfetched. Frankenstein is now a feasible possibility. However, it has also been reported that there were several mistakes and errors that failed to mentioned. He Jiankui, the researcher behind this, said that he is proud of his work. He created Lulu and Nana, the allegedly first CRISPR-edited twin girls. His initial hope for the technology was that man can eventually cure diseases by correcting genetic defects preventing problems later in life. Having the ability to eradicate disease causing genes before the baby is born is something of interest to many and it raises the debate about whether it’s ethical. However, if it can be demonstrated as safe repeatedly then the concern should be put to rest, but what happened here is what skeptics have feared all along – unknown undesired side effects.
Inserting CRISPR edited genes can have several side effects that can lead to other problems down the road. It may be able to put an end to one gene but doing so can create another genetic anomaly which can results in disease, often undetected by computers. It is still not even clear of Jiankui even did what he claims. CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, was “horrified” of the experiment, and bioethicist Julian Savulescu, described it as “monstrous”. Jiankui’s focus was on the CCR5 gene to prevent HIV, however there already are drugs on the market that can block CCR5. The other thing is that you might even be immune to CRISPR and not know it. Chinese scientists are also outraged as they fear Jiankui’s actions will tarnish their country’s reputation for years to come.
There were some other concerns regarding the process such as using heavy technical language arising the debate on whether or not the volunteers really knew what they were consenting to. Australian geneticist Gaetan Burgio also criticized Jiankui’s technique as being amateurish and that the patients still would have the normal functioning gene thus not making them immune from HIV. Plus, there is also the problem of mosaic which is a known issue in successfully performing gene editing in embryos. A CCR5 mutation can make one more susceptible to the Flue. These are the complications well known in among professional geneticists, that’s why the big claims and promises of CRISPR hasn’t proven to be so easy.
Look, every geneticist would love to just be able to cut and paste genes to take away all of your ailments and give you optimum health, that’s why those at the top of the field are working their butts off to perfect the technique, but the reality is that this is not that simple. Scientists need more time and testing to definitively prove a method that can deliver as promise. Until then, playing with genes is going to lead to trouble. However, not every country abides by the same standards, so He Jiankui’s action could be just the beginning. If rogue scientists start experimenting like this in the future, who knows what the future holds, and the big concern is what will happen if the military/industrial complex gets control of this technology, if they haven’t already?
Technology, whether it’s physics, engineering, or chemistry, always seem to become eventually weaponized for malicious purposes. It would be naïve to think that biotechnology wouldn’t suffer the same fate. If you have bunkers where morally deprived scientists hired by the government are free to experiment as they please, who knows what kind of freak creations will walk, crawl, or fly out of their lab. It’s something straight from science fiction except it’s not so fictitious any longer.
Resident Evil, the once popular zombie shooter game, features an interesting backstory about a corporation named Umbrella, creating the T-virus, which once injected into normal people, turns them into bloodsucking zombies. Right now, diseases are the side effects of genetic mutations, but what sort of results will occur from more aggressive editing? Well, we don’t really know, but it doesn’t look good. If zombies are invented, it will be due to the irresponsibility of biotech genetics.