Last week researchers in China announced that they had experimented with human embryos, editing out defective genes. Using leading edge technology the team removed the defective gene and inserted a working gene.
The work was deemed a success, although several “off-target” mutations were accidentally introduced. The microscopic bundle of cells would not have grown into a viable human.
The National Institute of Health for the US, Dr. Francis Collins, has nixed the research for the US. Others in the genetic research field have been outspoken about both the experimentation on human embryos and about inserting new genetic material into the embryos.
If research on human embryos were to progress to the point where altered humans were born (or decanted in a Brave New World) the alterations would be passed on to offspring just like other inherited characteristics. This raises ethical and social issues. The carrot is that some genetic diseases could be fixed before the potential is more than a few cells.
The technology is being investigated for usefulness in treating patients with cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia. This work is being done with the patient’s informed consent. This technology is being done in the US, China and the UK.
We will be hearing more about CRISPER technology in the future. It was first teased out in the genetic make-up of bacteria. Researchers in the 2005 reasoned that bacteria had ways of developing immunity to some viruses.
The question is not if human babies will be produced that are transgenic but when. It is possible to buy the ingredients for conducting genetic experiments from the internet. It does not have to be a government sanctioned laboratory. Biohacking is a relatively new term that refers to do-it-yourselfers who hack into organisms’ DNA to create new combinations.
The technology to insert alien genes into mammals is being used today. The list of transgenic or GM mammals is quite long. Mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, goats, cows, fluorescent pigs, fluorescent cats and GloFish(fluorescent fish) are being used for research and commerce. In 2009 Japanese scientists succeeded in producing the world’s first GM primate, a marmoset.