China’s gene-edited CRISPR babies may have enhanced memory

Brittany A. Roston - Feb 21, 2019, 3:38pm CST
China’s gene-edited CRISPR babies may have enhanced memory

In November 2018, a Chinese researcher claimed to have used gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter the DNA of twin girls allegedly born late last year. The confirmation had followed the discovery of clinical trial documents published in China that indicated a team of researchers were seeking couples to participate in a gene-editing study. Following that, a new study indicates that the genetically edited girls may have enhanced memory and cognition as a result of the experiment.

News of the alleged gene-editing experiment had shocked scientists around the world. The work was denounced as reckless and unethical, with some accusing the scientists of engaging in human experimentation. Chinese researcher He Jiankui claimed at the time that he had altered embryos from seven couples as part of a fertility treatment, but that only one pregnancy had resulted from the experiments.

That pregnancy allegedly resulted in the live birth of twin girls in October 2018. According to Jiankui’s claims, via Associated Press, the gene-editing revolved around an attempt to produce humans who are resistant to HIV. Assuming the claims are true, the researcher modified the CCR5 gene, which new research indicates may affect the twin girls’ brains.

According to MIT Technology Review, researchers studying the CCR5 gene’s effect on cognition report that the gene-editing will have most likely altered the girls’ brains, though it’s impossible to say what the results will end up being. Research on mice found that alteration of the gene resulted in smarter mice; past research has also indicated that the lack of this gene may enable a human brain to recover better after a stroke.

Gene editing has raised concerns over so-called ‘designer babies’ and the potential future ability to produce super-humans who have a biological edge over other people. Using this technology in an effort to enhance human beings introduces a number of problems, not the least of which is a lack of adequate information on the long-term effects of such changes.

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