Chinese researcher He Jiankui’s claim that he has created world’s first genetically edited babies has divided the scientific community. Genetic engineering still remains a field that has failed to convince many commoners on grounds of tampering with the very building blocks of life, gene editing remains at best, a fringe technology. For most laymen, the fact that scientists can deliberately add or disable a gene in our bodies, is still an unpalatable fact. Many call this tampering unnecessary, invasive and unethical and then there are others, who cannot stop gushing over the endless possibilities of genetic editing. How it can protect us from HIV and many more deadly diseases and obliterating genetic defects. However, applying this technology to embryos can bear unforeseen consequences, and that is exactly what Jiankui has done.

As per a report in the Associated Press, He claims twin girls were born this month, whose DNA Jiankui had altered using the CRISPR-Cas9 tool. This tool, makes it possible to operate on DNA, to supply a needed gene or disable the one that’s causing problems. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus.

From a scientific perspective, genetic editing is like a magic wand which can grant us longevity and a healthier life.

One can even dare to say that it can set us on the course of becoming a superior version of ourselves. The question, however, is how much of the consequences of gene editing of embryos can we foresee? How will editing affect our genetic make-up in the long run? Moreover, will we evolve into a superior race, or be forever doomed, and set on a course of self-destruction? The problem is that the speed at which we are finding answers is slower to that at which the tech is advancing.

SOME TAKEAWAY

  • A Chinese researcher has claimed that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies.
  • Gene editing when done on adults, the changes are confined to that person. However, editing sperms, eggs or embryos can make the changes inheritable.
  • From scientific perspective, genetic editing is like a magic wand which can grant us longevity and a healthier life.
  • The question however is how much of the consequences of gene editing of embryos can we foresee?

Gene editing when done on adults, the changes are confined to that person. However, editing sperms, eggs or embryos can make the changes inheritable. Also, scientists worry that editing one gene can lead to alteration in the whole coding, thus affecting other genes in a way we do not know yet. These unforeseen consequences of genetic editing is what is daunting. The tech is also susceptible to misuse in countries with poor regulatory measures.

Like it is with every technology, in the wrong hands this can turn into a weapon, used to cause damage of biological nature.

Even if we overlook these risks, it doesn’t seem ethical to be experimenting on human embryos and bringing children with edited genetic code in this world, without any idea as to how it will affect them in the long run. Take He’s work, for example, the scientist seeks to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter a cell. However, AP’s article suggests that people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from the flu.

It is a crime to thrust unknown consequences on babies and our future generations. If gene edits are inheritable, then scientists are standing at crossroads. They cannot let their curiosity make the call on which way the course of the entire humanity should proceed. This is too substantial to be going out on a limb.

Right now the world is not ready for genetically edited babies. We know too less to be bringing in unforeseen consequences on the entire human race. That in itself is a reason enough for scientists to back off. No matter how noble their intentions are, some things are best left untouched for the sheer potential they have to wield disastrous consequences.

Picture credit: VistaNews.ru

Also Read : Why India Must Promote Women in Technology and Sciences

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.