Genetically Modified Babies in China


Photo Credit: Healthcare Guys News

       GMO’s, or genetically modified organisms, have long-since become commonplace in farming and agriculture. Fruits, vegetables, and even animals whose genetic code has been modified to better promote growth, repel insects, disease resistance, and other desirable characteristics have been cultivated by nearly all major agricultural corporations since the early 90’s. Many pharmaceuticals are also now being produced using plants, animals, and even bacteria who have been modified to synthesize certain medicinal compounds, such as insulin, adalimumab (commonly sold under the brand-name Humira), and several vaccines. But while such a vast array of living things have been the subjects of GMO research, the only genetic code that humans seem not to have tampered with is that of themselves- until now. When Professor He Jiankui and his team at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China first began work on the modification of human embryos in 2015, they sparked intense controversy over the ramifications of seeing a GMO pregnancy through to terms. However, in late November of 2018, the team claimed that the first GMO babies, two twins named “Lulu” and “Nana”, had been successfully delivered to their parents Grace and Mark. Jiankui stated that he and his team used the gene-editing technology CRISPR to perform “gene surgery” on the babies to silence the CCR5 gene, in hopes of rendering them immune to the HIV virus. The twins’ father is HIV-positive. Though he initially refused to answer questions about the experiment, Jiankui eventually appeared at the Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong to discuss his research and what he plans for the children. He stated that the pair were born as “healthy as any other babies,” and that he and his team would continue to monitor them over the next 18 years of their lives.

      Despite what an astounding scientific advancement Jiankui’s work presents, it has nonetheless garnered an unprecedented amount of controversy and outrage. The University under which the experiments were conducted claims that Jiankui has been placed on unpaid leave since February, and were unaware of the project being conducted. The institute plans to launch an investigation into the research. Concerns have also been expressed over how far science will go in the modification of human beings, with many concerned that research will progress beyond the realm of sorting out genetic ailments and illnesses, and into commercial industries such as designer babies and extreme body alterations. Not to mention the fact that in many countries either completely prohibit human modification, or, as is in the case of the U.S., strictly regulate what research is and is not allowed. Still, the undeniable truth is that this study opens up a remarkable new area of gene editing- one that may one day put an end to the many hereditary afflictions that science still struggles to properly treat any other way.

Video Credit: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell


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