WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed in November that he has created the first genetically-edited babies in the world using CRISPR technology.
- He Jiankui was criticized by his fellow scientists, ethicists, and government officials calling his research unethical and dangerous.
- But according to MIT Technology Review, the “designer” twins may be the first two enhanced people with genetically-boosted cognition and memory.
In November 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed to have edited the genes of twin babies. He said that he was attempting to make them resistant to HIV infection. His fellow scientists are now saying that the particular procedure he made may have broader consequences.
He Jiankui said he edited a gene called CCR5 which creates a “doorway” that allows HIV to enter cells. By turning it off, humans can become immune to it.
A study published in the journal Cell on Thursday reveals that CCR5 also boosts cognition in mouse experiments. Add to that, the gene can also improve a human’s brain recovery after a stroke. According to MIT Technology Review, it “could be linked to greater success in school.”
That said, the twins, named Lulu and Nana may be “the first two enhanced humans with genetically boosted cognition and memory.”
With the evidence MIT Tech Review has gathered, it appears He Jiankui likely knew about the effect of the CCR5 gene in the brain.
Neuroscientist Alcino Silva of the University of California, Los Angeles, told MIT Tech: “The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains. The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins.”
Silva is now concerned on what will the effect of He’s experiment be on Lulu and Nana’s lives.
“Could it be conceivable that at one point in the future we could increase the average IQ of the population? I would not be a scientist if I said no,” Silva added. “The work in mice demonstrates the answer may be yes. But mice are not people. We simply don’t know what the consequences will be in mucking around. We are not ready for it yet.”