Forget about editing the genes of animals and making them transgenic, now the gene-edited babies are formed. Lulu and Nana are twins who are born with the edited genes. A Chinese researcher named He Jiankui who studied in the U.S. and lives in Shenzhen made gene editing in offsprings possible.

The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, says the twins known as Lulu and Nana “came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies” several weeks ago, and are now at home with their parents. Thanks to the proliferation and fast-falling cost of new genetic technology, that one day scientists would alter the DNA of an unborn person was increasingly inevitable. This was done with a vision of making children resistant to HIV.

“The ability to use some of these new technologies is becoming more ubiquitous and it doesn’t take as much sophistication,’’ said Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb in an interview with Bloomberg. “You can be a Ph.D. and have your own lab and be doing some of these techniques in your basement.’’

According to the Associated Press “He, together with a Chinese team and the assistance of a US scientist — who traveled overseas as such DNA alteration is currently banned in the United States — were able to overwrite and tamper with the twins’ DNA through the gene modification tool CRISPR,”

How the gene-edited babies formed?

There were seven couples who provided the embryos so that they could be altered. Among all of them, only one successful pregnancy was observed. This successful pregnancy resulted in the birth of twin girls. Interestingly the sperm was of the man who was infected by HIV and he never thought he could have children.

“Grace [the mother] started her pregnancy with one difference; after we sent her husband’s sperm into her eggs, we also sent a little bit of protein and some instructions for a gene surgery,” He says. “When Lulu and Nana were just a single cell, this removed the doorway through which HIV enters to infect people.”

CRISPR, Chinese researcher, Gene-edited babies
Microplate having embryos which were injected with Cas9 protein

He added that a few days later, the team performed gene sequencing to see if the changes had taken root. According to the scientist, the “surgery worked safely, as intended,” and no other gene was modified.

There is a gene called CCR5 which is responsible for providing entry to HIV so that they can enter the cells and then the team focussed to alter that gene.

So, Lulu and Nana are having a genetic mutation in such a way that is making harder for HIV to enter the cells and cannot further harm the immune system and white blood cells which are generally the main target of the HIV virus.

This is a very useful approach in order to treat HIV but it is being subjected to a lot of criticism, international outrage. So this work was done in secret and no study has been published in any journals regarding genetic sequencing and editing space. The identities of parents and children were also kept anonymous to prevent such outrage. And if this experiment is said to be right and successful then a milestone will be set in the genetic engineering field as the disease resistant offsprings will be produced then.

Risks Associated with Gene-editing of humans

“Despite the fact that this is the most significant experiment in the history of human genetics, it is operating with a laissez-faire, let each nation decide approach,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the New York University School of Medicine.

CRISPR, He Jiankui, Gene-edited children, HIV, Genetic engineering

At an international summit on human gene editing in 2015, a Chinese science official said despite strict regulations there on genome editing in human embryos, he couldn’t guarantee that rogue labs and clinics weren’t conducting experiments outside of those bounds. For years, concern has grown that Chinese researchers are operating on the premise of anything goes, speeding ahead with experiments that alter the DNA of human embryos. Such research is either controversial or altogether forbidden in the West.

“There have been signals coming out of China for a few years now’’ that human gene editing was likely to happen, said Caplan.

A piece of study is published in The Crispr Journal which published the study done by the tool CRISPR. Rodolphe Barrangou, the journal’s editor in chief, where the peer-reviewed perspective appeared, says that the article was one of two that it had published recently addressing the ethical concerns of human germline editing, the other by a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina. Both papers’ authors had requested that their writing come out ahead of a major gene editing summit taking place this week in Hong Kong. When half-rumors of He’s covert work reached Barrangou over the weekend, his team discussed pulling the paper, but ultimately decided that there was nothing too solid to discredit it, based on the information available at the time.

“There are very few times something like this has happened in the history in medicine,’’ said Eric Topol, a geneticist at Scripps Research Institute, who called the revelation a crisis. “We’re talking about changing every cell of the human body’s 37 trillion cells. That’s never been done before. And it was done in a rogue fashion.’’

“This is far too premature,” Dr. Eric Topol from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California told the AP. “We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It’s a big deal.”

CRISPR is the most useful tool in gene editing

CRISPR is known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR/CRISPR-Casg). It is a tool which is really helpful in editing the genome and is based on the natural editing system in bacteria. Harmful genes can be disabled using this tool.

Scientists worldwide are still exploring the potential applications of the tool, but for some, tampering with the DNA of humans may have come too soon.

It can edit even tiny segments of the genome and makes editing easy

At the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, which kicks off this week in Hong Kong, scientists were set to debate these issues. But He’s announcement quickly changed the conversation to one about what to do next, now that genetically edited babies appear to be reality. Several Chinese health institutions disavowed He’s work, and Feng Zhang, a researcher at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University and Crispr pioneer, called for a moratorium on genetically modifying children.

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