GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms are new organisms, not normally found in nature. Like some kind of modern-day Frankensteins GMOs are created in labs by so-called “food scientists” that genetically modify or engineer food plants. They claim that the genetic modifications can make food plants hardier and more nutritious. However, since their introduction in 1996, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped nearly 20%; food allergies have skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are all on the rise. Besides, in animal studies GMOs have been linked to “organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.”
As if all of that isn’t bad enough, scientists in China now claim they have created the first pair of genetically modified humans. A Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls whose DNA he said he altered using a powerful new technology capable of rewriting the very blueprint of human life.
Gene Editing Is Banned in the United States
The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, used a technique known as “gene editing” to bestow what he believed to be a natural immunity to the HIV in the twin girls. He said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy of the twins resulting thus far. Jiankui used a tool known as CRISPR-cas9, which makes it possible to operate on DNA to supply a needed gene or disable one that’s causing problems.
Research into such genetic manipulation of humans has been banned in the US for fear of the DNA changes passing on to future generations and the risks of such editing harming other genes, and/or creating never before seen genetic diseases. Many mainstream scientists think it’s too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation.
Thus far there has been no independent verification of Jiankui’s claim, and it has not been published in a legitimate peer-reviewed medical journal. He revealed it in Hong Kong recently in exclusive interviews with The Associated Press during a genetic conference recently held in the city. “I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” he told the AP. “Society will decide what to do next” regarding allowing or forbidding such science.
An Ethical Dilemma
Conjuring up images of the genetic aberrations of dozens of science fiction novels, from “A Brave New World” to “Jurassic Park,” many scientists find Jiankui’s work indefensible. “It’s unconscionable … an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal.
“This is far too premature,” said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. “We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It’s a big deal.”
On the other hand, one world-renowned geneticist, Harvard University’s George Church, defended the attempt at gene editing to prevent HIV, which he called “a major and growing public health threat.”
“I think this is justifiable,” Church said of that goal.
As stated earlier, Jiankui’s research has not been published. Scientists who have had opportunity to review the material he submitted to the AP have said that tests so far are insufficient to say whether or not the editing worked or to rule out any great harm that may have been done to the girls. They also noted evidence that the editing was incomplete and that at least one twin appears to be a patchwork of cells with various changes.
Further pregnancy attempts are on hold until the safety of this one is analyzed and more experts in the field weigh in on the safety and ethics of the Chinese researcher’s work.