It does not seem that long ago, when a protest was raised by Dolly the sheep, the first animal created through cell cloning. Now, if we have to believe a Chinese researcher, we have made the leap to the cloning of animals to genetically edit our own offspring.
The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, says that the twins known as Lulu and Nana "came to the world crying as healthy as any other baby" several weeks ago, and now they are at home with their parents.
He, along with a Chinese team and the assistance of an American scientist, who traveled abroad because such DNA alteration is currently banned in the United States, were able to overwrite and manipulate the twins' DNA using the genetic modification tool CRISPR . According to the Associated Press.
The purpose? Medical alteration and resistance to diseases, namely the HIV / AIDS virus.
The embryos provided by seven couples were altered, with a successful pregnancy so far. According to the scientist, the successful pregnancy, which resulted in twins, was achieved using the sperm of a man known as Mark, who is HIV positive and "never thought he could have children."
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"Grace [the mother] began her pregnancy with a difference; After sending her husband's sperm to his eggs, we also sent some protein and some instructions for a genetic surgery, "he says. When Lulu and Nana were only one cell, this eliminated the door through which HIV enters. infect people. "
The gateway of the protein is used by a gene called CCR5 that allows HIV to enter cells. It is this gene that the team focused on editing.
He added that a few days later, the team performed the gene sequencing to see if the changes had taken root. According to the scientist, "surgery worked safely, as expected," and no other gene was modified.
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However, the trial was conducted in secret and no document has yet been submitted for the scrutiny of colleagues in the editing and genetic sequencing space.
The identities of the parents and children involved in the trial, which some have criticized as reckless and dangerous human experimentation, have also remained anonymous.
If such statements turn out to be true, this is an important milestone in science that could result in a generation that is born with inherent resistances to some of the most debilitating diseases that exist. However, this future also raises a number of ethical issues and the possibility of a slippery slope when it comes to "designer" children and what DNA could, or should, be altered.
The research, which has not been independently verified, was revealed before a conference on gene editing that begins in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
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The tool apparently used to carry out the experiment is known as Classically Inter-divided Palindromic Short Interplay (CRISPR / CRISPR-Cas9), a genome-editing tool based on a natural bacteria editing system. By using CRISPR, dangerous genes can be deactivated.
Scientists around the world are still exploring the potential applications of the tool, but for some, the manipulation of human DNA may have come too soon.
"This is too premature," Dr. Eric Topol, of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, told the AP. "We are dealing with the operational instructions of a human being, it's a big problem."
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