Recently, a scientist in China named He Jiankui, posted his results of gene-edited twins using CRISPR to prevent the embryos from contacting HIV, whose father was a HIV-positive. This incident raised heated and controversial debate about the premature gene-editing technology and whether its use is ethical on humans. Some support it, while most are concerned about the potentially harmful effects. In this article, benefits and risks of such technology and implications will be discussed.
Firstly, the benefits of gene editing include producing “super-humans’ who can resist incurable diseases like HIV. According to the articles, the scientist used CRISPR gene-editing system to edit DNA and disrupt a gene in human embryos to make them less susceptible to HIV. With the long-term impact, more human race can be saved and promoting more healthy and long-lived lives. Apart from disease prevention, another significant benefit would be the enhanced brain functions. Research has stated that other organisms might have enhanced cognitive, memory and motor functions following stroke and traumatic brain injury, that lead to a better recovery.
Despite the promising benefits of gene-editing, the community is also widely concerned about its risks. To start with, there can be technical risks associated. Many research or studies have indicated the possibility of inducing a gene mutation following the use of gene editing. Taking CRISPR babies as an example, He Jiankui’s attempt to cripple CCR5, the gene for a protein on immune cells that HIV uses to infect, also made other complications by making changes elsewhere in the genome, that could cause cancer or other problems like increasing the vulnerability to the influenza virus and severe encephalitis. An altered protein might also be produced with unpredictable outcomes.
Apart from the technical risk, gene-editing does not necessarily promote the concept of survival of the fittest. Studies have shown that people who have comparable natural genetic modification are likely to die earlier. Complications might also be extremely unsafe that might threaten the lives of the gene-edited humans. Moreover, the claimed benefits might not really be that significant and assured. For the CRISPR babies, they initially might not even have inherited the HIV due to the fact that they are raised through a special technique in in-vitro fertilization that prevents the transfer of HIV from the sperm to the egg. Scientists also pointed out that the embryos might be a genetic “mosaic”, who ultimately might not have the protection from HIV because its genes are edited after passing the one cell stage. It can thus be concluded that the actual benefits of the gene-editing technology are not well-assured and still require trials on other animals for securing the safety of the technology. Abuse and misuse of such technology might also cause severe gene pool problems, that will pose unknown effects on the future generations.
All in all, after weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of gene-editing technology, I believe that it is not worth the risk to apply such technology on the human race at the current stage due to its risk and unassured safety, and there are insufficient information to get rid of the the unknown side effects yet. Perhaps it requires more research and fundamental knowledge about gene-editing, and more trials to be carried out on animals to ensure its safety before being applied to humans.