4. Gene editing takes a foreboding leap forward
China is temporarily suspending the work of scientists who claimed twins were born after being genetically edited as embryos.
Why it matters: The scientific consensus is that gene editing embryos at this stage of science is "irresponsible." But, while this particular experiment has not been verified, the fact is the technology is available to researchers, so there's a growing call for international limitations on its use.
ICYMI: Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced earlier this week that twins were born after he used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to cut the CCR5 gene that's known to play a role in HIV infection, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly notes.
- "He stirred even more dismay when he mentioned the possibility of a second pregnancy."
- China currently bans human implantation of gene-edited embryos. Its Ministry of Science and Technology is investigating the claims, per Xinhua.
There are concerns about the safety, efficacy and possible mosaicism, where a person can contain genes in both its edited and unedited forms, from cutting genes.
- Editing embryos raises an even bigger concern: The genetic changes and all the unknowns around them can be passed down to future generations.
Between the lines: Not everyone viewed it as a complete disaster. For instance, Harvard Medical School's George Daley suggested that it may be time to reconsider the massive amounts of research done over the past several years and look for plausible methods of moving forward.
What to watch: Scientists are cautious about predicting what the impact will be, in part because the details of this claim are thin. However, the debate is heating up and one concern is it will dampen important research.
- Medical ethicist Jonathan Moreno from the University of Pennsylvania says the situation reminds him of other times in history where there were tremors in the science world, like the death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in 1999 from a gene therapy trial that led to years of diminished research.
The bottom line: The alarm over what could be next is real. But scientists hope the current debate will promote consensus on firm limits and promote transparency.