What kind of world would we live in if we could edit our children's genetic makeup? Imagine being able to select your child's hair color, blood type, or even IQ level. "Designer babies" have been theorized about for years, but scientists always shied away since it's unknown if genetic editing could also lead to genetic diseases never seen before.
According to Chinese researcher He Jiankui, this sort of reality is not only possible, but he has already made it happen.
He claims to have created the world's first genetically edited babies, twin girls to be exact. The Associated Press reports that he achieved this by altering the embryos of seven different couples during fertility treatments. The one successful pregnancy resulted in the twin girls. The identities of the children and their parents are still confidential.
Jiankui's goal with this work is to be able to implement people with a trait that can resist future infections, such as the AIDS virus.
"I believe this is going to help the families and their children," Jiankui told AP. If it causes unwanted side effects or harm, "I would feel the same pain as they do and it's going to be my own responsibility."
Side effects or harm, such as unwanted mutations or developmental defects, are just the tip of the iceberg as to why this experiment is so polarizing to the science community.
For starters, this claim has not been independently confirmed or published in a scientific journal, so the truth behind the experiment is questionable. To make matters worse, genetic editing is banned in the US and most experts agree that it should stay that way.
Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert in genetic editing, described Jiankui's work to AP as, "unconscionable... an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible."
Others agree that tampering with a human being's genetic makeup is too premature at this time. Jiankui, on the other hand, does not want to give up on his research but supports the creation of guidelines on the use of this technology in hopes that it will achieve mainstream acceptance.
"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," He told AP. "Society will decide what to do next."
What do you think of genetic editing? Is it immoral, dangerous, and the opposite of what defines humanity? Or, are you already choosing your future child's eye color? Let us know in the comments below!
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