Genetically modified babies have been a subject of controversy over the last few years. Now, a Russian biologist by the name of Denis Rebrikov also wants to get on the controversial trend by giving birth to CRISPR babies.
The Russian biologist Denis Rebrikov also wants to give birth to genetically modified babies. “Rebrikov plans to disable the gene, which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter cells, in embryos that will be implanted into HIV-positive mothers, reducing the risk of them passing on the virus to the baby in utero,” says the journal Nature.
Last November, Chinese researcher He Jiankui angered the scientific community by revealing that he had managed to create two genetically modified babies to be resistant to HIV infection. These twins, born to parents, one of whom is HIV-positive, were created using the technique of “genetic scissors”, whose scientific name is CRISPR-Cas9.
Denis Rebrikov wants to modify the same gene as Professor He Jiankui. He claims, however, that his technique would have “greater benefits, less risk” and would be “more ethically justifiable” and acceptable to the public. He claims to have developed a new technique to prevent the unwanted mutations. He plans to make it public within a month.
Already tested in animals, this technique involves removing and replacing unwanted parts of the genome. When the eggs and sperm were combined, the Chinese scientist added a CRISPR protein to modify the CCR5 gene of the embryos. This mutation “CCR5 delta 32” can “close the door” through which HIV can enter and infect cells.
An experiment considered “shocking” and “worrying” for the scientific community. Indeed, the modification of the human genome remains mysterious and potentially dangerous since it can be transmitted between generations and modify the entire genetic heritage. Accused of ignoring medical ethics and seeking “personal glory and fortune”, Professor He Jiankui had persisted in defending his work, and even announced that a second pregnancy of genetically modified children was under way.
However, the delta 32 mutation of the CCR5 gene would shorten the life expectancy of those who carry it by about two years, according to a recent study. To reach this conclusion, between 2006 and 2010 researchers analyzed the genomes of 410,000 participants from UK Biobank, a British database. They found that people with this CCR5 gene modification had a significantly higher risk of dying between 41 and 78 years of age. This genetic modification “would reduce the protection against certain infectious diseases, such as the flu”. “This is probably not a mutation that most people would like to have,” says Professor Rasmus Nielsen.
According to him, “beyond the many ethical issues related to CRISPR babies, the fact is that now, with current knowledge, it is still very dangerous to try to introduce mutations without knowing the full effect that these mutations might have. “