It’s the stuff of horror movies — scientists who go rogue to create their own versions of humanity, ethics be danged.
Only it’s not science fiction; a Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, is under investigation for using his associate professor spot at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology of China to gene-edit embryos using the CRISPR tool.
As if that’s not unethical enough, he reportedly conducted the DNA edits on the embryos of seven couples undergoing infertility treatments.
And now twin girls have been born — twin girls with scientifically manipulated DNA that reportedly makes them immune to HIV.
Reportedly, the father had HIV while the mother did not. The researcher, according to The Associated Press, said he wanted to alter the genes of the couple’s offspring in such a way as to make them immune to HIV.
But this secret DNA finagling goes against all standards of ethical science. This is the stuff of God’s domain.
“Our school will immediately hire authoritative experts to set up an independent committee to conduct in-depth investigations and publish relevant information after the investigation,” SUSTC said in a statement reported by Business Insider.
The damage has been done, however.
And look; it’s not just China’s science world that’s gone rogue.
“American scientist under investigation over ties to alleged genetic editing of Chinese twins,” ABC News reported.
Apparently, He Jiankui had some help.
Rice University’s Michael Deem, a professor of biochemical and genetic engineering, has been accused of assisting with the genetic editing project that led to the birth of the girls with altered DNA.
And Rice University has issued a statement that’s similar to that of SUSTC.
“Regardless of where it was conducted,” the university’s statement read, “this work as described in press reports violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University.”
Yes — not to mention U.S. law.
Genetically editing of human embryos isn’t just science fiction creepy. It’s illegal in the United States.
This is a genie that won’t go back in its bottle, though.
Now that this gene-editing step’s been taken, scientists and researchers will no doubt — quietly, at first, so as not to offend — begin to study what was discovered. They’ll keep an eye on these twin girls through adulthood, watch how they grow, pay attention to how they mature, analyze their medical conditions and wait and see what diseases they contract, what diseases they don’t — all for the good of science, the betterment of humanity.
These girls are real life test babies for the scientific world of embryonic gene-editing.
They’re also the door to a world that’s been previously kept closed by ethics.
No longer. Watch and see. Soon enough, ethics will cave way to science and the lust for human achievement and medical breakthrough will crumple any consideration for moral rights versus wrongs.
The blueprint of life will be in the hands of humans. Oh, the horrors that will come.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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