The movie Gattaca proved itself to be a powerful showcase of both the good and bad side effects of editing ourselves at the genetic level. However, as of November 25, 2018, the happenings in that movie may be much more plausible than we thought. 

Has Pandora’s box been opened?

A scientist by the name of Dr. Jiankui He uploaded a video to YouTube to share the news: he had created the first set of genetically modified human babies. Using in vitro fertilization, the protein CRISPR/Cas9 was injected into the embryo, disabling the gene that allows the transmission of HIV into healthy cells. The embryo was then used to carry out the pregnancy.

Wikimedia Commons

Dr. He claims that, before and after the embryo was implanted into the mother’s womb, the success of the surgery was confirmed using a technique known as “whole genome sequencing.” He also confirmed that there weren’t any undesirable side effects— such as damage to other aspects of the girls’ genome. 

The scientific community responds— and it’s not pretty

Almost immediately, figures all over the scientific community responded with animosity. He has been criticized for the irresponsible use of the CRISPR gene editing technique (which is widely considered not to be ready for what He used it for), the secretive conditions under which the experiment was held, the questionable ethics surrounding it, and the lack of independent verification of the results.

Voice of America Chinese

Nevertheless, Dr. He remained certain that he was in the right with his experiment, defending his actions at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28.

The future of gene editing may be at stake

Other scientists are concerned that He’s experiment will hinder progress in the field. Generating this much controversy may tarnish the public’s view of safe and effective gene surgeries, and as a result, strict regulations may be implemented. 

Mark Schiefelbein