According to his Twitter bio, Charles Murray is a “Husband, father, social scientist, writer, Madisonian. Or maybe right-wing ideologue, pseudoscientist, evil. Opinions differ.” You may remember him as the co-author of the controversial book “The Bell Curve” (1994), discussing purported connections between race and intelligence. The bad news is that he recently joined the CRISPR debate by tweeting “Gene editing to raise IQ will have a huge market”. The good news is that confutation is easy and a little irony is the best reply (check out Fyodor Urnov’s tweet in the gallery below).
The year 2019 ended with three years in jail sentenced to He Jiankui for illegal medical practice. The CRISPR-baby scandal’s epilogue was applauded on twitter by a few leading scientists such as Craig Venter and Fyodor Urnov and decried on STAT News by the controversial biohacker Josiah Zayner. Most experts, however, stayed silent.
As stressed by the Washington Post, “the judicial proceedings were not public, and outside experts said it is hard to know what to make of the punishment without the release of the full investigative report or extensive knowledge of Chinese law and the conditions under which He will be incarcerated.”
Exactly one year ago, AP News went public with the CRISPR-babies story. What happened to He Jiankui then? His trace was lost after the picture of him sequestered in a university guesthouse in Shenzhen.
How are Lulu&Nana? Nobody knows, but at least the study suggesting they might die early has been retracted.
What became of the global governance of germline editing? Waiting for the Science academies and the WHO reports in 2020.
What about the next baby-editing? Denis Rebrikov says he plans to do extensive safety checks before seeking approval to implant an edited embryo.
Last but not least, how many couples are interested in germline editing? Very few, according to calculations published in The CRISPR Journal.
History in the making: student experiment edits DNA with CRISPR technology in space (Iss national lab blog)
Emails reveal that a facility in Dubai and others have asked geneticist He Jiankui for help in gene-editing embryos (The Scientist)
New worries about CRISPR babies: gene edits might have shortened their life expectancy (Nature)
Twenty days after the announcement, many questions remain. The one certainty seems to be that the first CRISPR babies are less breaking news than expected.
They will be in front pages again, probably, if and when the scientific paper gets published, if and when the baby-editor He Jiankui resurfaces, if and when the first photos of Lulu and Nana are circulated. But if the coverage of Dolly the sheep is considered in comparison, there’s no match. Why?
The media world has changed dramatically in the meantime, CRISPR is still unknown to many, China is perceived as a Wild East where anything can happen. But a sheep is always a sheep, and babies are babies. We should care about the first edited kids more than that. Maybe people are less troubled by human genome editing than most bioethicists. Perhaps the media have had enough of Gattaca, Frankenstein, and the likes. Did we cry wolf too often yesterday to get people interested today?
Don’t miss the “Draft Ethical Principles for Therapeutic Assisted Reproductive Technologies” just published by He Jiankui et al. in The CRISPR Journal. It seems the Lulu and Nana’s experiment is at odds even with their own guidelines. We are eager to hear more from He’s voice, his talk in Hong Kong is scheduled on Wednesday, 28 November 2018 (Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing-live broadcast)
“Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?”. This is the question asked by Guy Reeves et al. in a policy forum published in Science today. The evolutionary geneticist from the Max Planck Institute and his German and French coauthors doubt that the Insect Allies program funded by Darpa in the US will realize significant agricultural benefits, e.g. in relation to drought, frost, flooding, herbicide, salinity, or disease. They fear, indeed, that it will be “widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their delivery, which – if true – would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.” Continue reading
A shortlist of articles capturing ag scientists’ dismay at the recent EU verdict affecting the future of CRISPR crops:
Science Media Centre, Expert reaction to Court of Justice of the European Union ruling that GMO rules should cover plant genome editing techniques
Matt Ridley, EU’s anti-GMO crusade is unscientific and harmful
Mark Lynas, Scientific community defeated by green groups in European court ruling on gene edited crops
Carl Zimmer, What is a genetically modified crop? A European ruling sows confusion
The Observer view on Europe’s ban on gene-editing crops
Wired, European ruling could slow Africa’s push for CRISPR crops