Scientist Who Edited Human Embryos Wasn’t Exactly Tight-Lipped About Plans. So, Why Did No One Stop Him?
NIH Director Francis Collins called He Jiankui “a scientist who apparently believed that he was a hero. In fact, he crossed every line, scientifically and ethically," after it was announced that he gene-edited human embryos using CRISPR. The reaction has been echoed across the scientific community for the past week. But were there missed opportunities for others to intervene along the way? Meanwhile, the scandal might have rocked the science world, but Wall Street was unfazed.
The Associated Press:
Could Anyone Have Stopped Gene-Edited Babies Experiment?
Early last year, a little-known Chinese researcher turned up at an elite meeting in Berkeley, California, where scientists and ethicists were discussing a technology that had shaken the field to its core — an emerging tool for "editing" genes, the strings of DNA that form the blueprint of life. The young scientist, He Jiankui, saw the power of this tool, called CRISPR, to transform not only genes, but also his own career. (Marchione and Larson, 12/2)
The CRISPR’d Baby Controversy Shook Science, But Not Wall Street
This week’s announcement that two Chinese children were born with CRISPR-modified genes exploded onto the global stage. Experts joined Good Morning America and took to Twitter, sharing their fears for the future and for the children’s health and discussing their concerns about the ethical quandaries realized sooner than some had expected. Wall Street, however, was unfazed. Share prices for three publicly traded companies using CRISPR — Editas, Intellia and CRISPR Therapeutics — haven’t faltered. If anything, most CRISPR-based stocks have become more valuable since the announcement. Editas’s and CRISPR Therapeutics’ share prices rose about 15 percent over the course of the week; Intellia’s was up by about 4 percent. (Sheridan, 11/30)
The New York Times:
Genetically Modified People Are Walking Among Us
It felt as if humanity had crossed an important line: In China, a scientist named He Jiankui announced on Monday that twins had been born in November with a gene that he had edited when they were embryos. But in some ways this news is not new at all. A few genetically modified people already walk among us. In the mid-1990s, fertility doctors in New Jersey got an idea for how to help women have children. They suspected that some women struggled to become pregnant because of defective material in their eggs. (Zimmer, 12/1)
In other news —
The Washington Post:
‘Gene Drive’ Research To Fight Diseases Can Proceed Cautiously, U.N. Group Decides
Scientists hoping to fight diseases with genetically engineered organisms that spread their genes in the wild will be able to proceed cautiously under an agreement reached this week. That was the compromise outcome of a protracted debate, conducted in Egypt at a major U.N. conference on biodiversity, over a technology known as “gene drives.” A gene drive is a form of genetic engineering that seeks to push modified genes through a population. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a program called Target Malaria that envisions using a gene drive to combat the mosquitoes that carry malaria, a disease that kills nearly half a million people a year. (Achenbach, 11/30)
CRISPRed Food: How Gene Editing Is Expected To Change Our Crops — And Supermarket Shelves
Yield10 is aiming to make major crops like rice much more productive. It's using data science to pinpoint key genes that affect growth, and then altering them using CRISPR. The company has already reported dramatic initial results from gene-editing to boost yield in camelina, a plant related to flax. (Goldberg 11/30)