Feb 23, 2019

CRISPR babies may have had brains altered

The gene-editing scandal from Chinese scientist He Jiankui's genetic modification on the embryos of twin girls could have another twist.

What's new: Antonio Regalado reports in the MIT Technology Review that Chinese scientist He's experiment may have enhanced their ability to learn and form memories. Per Tech Review...

The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, to a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.
“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Silva’s lab has been uncovering a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory formation and the brain’s ability to form new connections. 

The big picture: Silva tells Tech Review he's worried about the desire for designer babies...

Silva says because of his research, he sometimes interacts with figures in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who have, in his opinion, an unhealthy interest in designer babies with better brains. That’s why, when the birth of the twins became public on November 25, Silva says he immediately wondered if it had been an attempt at this kind of alteration.
“I suddenly realized — Oh, holy shit, they are really serious about this bullshit,” says Silva. “My reaction was visceral repulsion and sadness.”

Read more here.

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