Gene Editing and the Future of Humanity: Lessons From China's Controversial Experiment

He Jiankui

In 2018, Chinese researcher He Jiankui made headlines when he announced that he had produced genetically-engineered babies. His purpose was to create babies that were immune to HIV infection, and he used CRISPR technology to edit the CCR5 gene that enables HIV infection.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology is a powerful tool that allows scientists to edit genes with greater precision and ease than ever before. At its core, CRISPR works by using a molecule called RNA to guide an enzyme called Cas9 to a specific location in the DNA. Once there, Cas9 cuts the DNA at that location, allowing scientists to remove, add, or replace specific genetic sequences. This process is called gene editing, and it has the potential to revolutionize many areas of medicine and biotechnology.

He performed the experiment on a couple where the father was HIV positive and the mother was not. The result was the birth of two babies who had undergone genetic modification. However, this experiment was met with criticism from the scientific community and the world at large. Jiankui faced legal repercussions and was sentenced to prison, along with his colleagues.

The Chinese government was called upon to create a special program to oversee the health of the two babies and to protect their privacy and identity, as they were identified as a "vulnerable group." The program also aims to study whether this experiment could affect future generations.

In early 2022, Jiankui was released from prison, but the case has raised concerns about the dangers of genetic modification.

The dangers of genetic modification cannot be overstated. While the technology holds great promise for treating genetic diseases and improving human health, it also carries significant risks. The unintended consequences of genetic modification could be disastrous and could lead to the creation of genetically-altered humans with unpredictable and potentially dangerous traits. To prevent a catastrophe, it is crucial that all research involving genetic modification is subject to rigorous ethical scrutiny and regulatory oversight. Scientists must be held accountable for their actions and the risks associated with their research, and governments must create regulatory frameworks to ensure that such experiments are conducted responsibly and transparently. Only by doing so can we ensure that genetic modification is used for the betterment of humanity, without putting future generations at risk.

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