What does the birth of babies whose embryos have gone through genome editing mean—for science and for all of us?
In November 2018, the world was shocked to learn that two babies had been born in China with DNA edited while they were embryos—as dramatic a development in genetics as the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep. In this book, Hank Greely, a leading authority on law and genetics, tells the fascinating story of this human experiment and its consequences in CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans (The MIT Press, 2021). Greely explains what Chinese scientist He Jiankui did, how he did it, and how the public and other scientists learned about and reacted to this unprecedented genetic intervention.
The two babies, nonidentical twin girls, were the first “CRISPR'd” people ever born (CRISPR, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a powerful gene-editing method). Greely not only describes He's experiment and its public rollout (aided by a public relations adviser) but also considers, in a balanced and thoughtful way, the lessons to be drawn both from these CRISPR'd babies and, more broadly, from this kind of human DNA editing—“germline editing” that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
Greely doesn't mince words, describing He's experiment as grossly reckless, irresponsible, immoral, and illegal. Although he sees no inherent or unmanageable barriers to human germline editing, he also sees very few good uses for it—other, less risky, technologies can achieve the same benefits. We should consider the implications carefully before we proceed.
Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland. To discuss and propose the book for an interview you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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