Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Future: here we are.

NY Times headline : Chinese Scientists Edit Genes of Human Embryos, Raising Concerns. Since work with the Crispr system has shown that gene splicing can be quick and easy in many systems, the scientific community has been urging restraint on human embryo manipulation until such time as we’ve had to think about all the ethical complications of being able to do so.
Lots of people are going to be getting into this, very fast. They don’t care that changing an embryo’s genetic makeup might be the wrong thing to do. They care that they can be paid big time for doing so. Well, eventually. Once it actually works. Though maybe even if it works a little bit once in a while.
What the Chinese article showed was that trying to splice a gene into an embryo (ones already declared to be non viable), specifically a normal copy of beta-globin gene, to correct a very serious genetic condition known as beta-thalessemia, was a disaster. That was their basic question – could you do it. They weren’t trying to fix a real case and have a child born from their experiments. (well, yet...)

In a collection of cells, some underwent the editing as planned. In others, a similar gene was incorrectly targeted. In others still, a variety of mutations happened. Overall, it was a mess, far, far from generating a viable embryo.

So there’s a ways to go before this new gene splicing kit allows anyone to make babies to order.

What I think is that calls to go slow and think it through before diving in, calls to wait for national and international guidelines, may have little effect on ambitious labs trying to be first across the finish line. Scientists are asking for a ban on such research, but bans on cloning or embryonic stem cells didn’t stop such research from happening, only drove it toward different funding and/or different countries.

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