By Cassandra Stegner
Just a few weeks ago, a team of researchers in China published a report detailing their efforts in the genetic modification of human embryos. Yong Fan, the author of the paper, says that he and his colleagues had been using non-viable human embryos; in other words, they could not have been born living. With the samples, scientists attempted to mutate an immune cell gene related to HIV, hoping that this would result in a complete immunity of the infection. Some humans carry the mutation naturally and are in fact immune to HIV, but cases such as these are fairly uncommon. Yong Fan and his team were able to successfully modify 4 of 26 embryos, and are looking for higher success rates in the future.
Though indeed a remarkable scientific achievement, many people have voiced concerns over whether the experiments are ethical and morally sound. “I don’t know… it sounds cool, but someone out there might wanna use this technology for the wrong reasons” a NEHS 9th grader said. “It would be amazing if we could just get rid of every disease and illness in the human body, though.”
More and more experiments are being conducted since being given explicit permission by world organizations, such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Gene editing has occurred in other organisms as well, including various species of livestock, fruits and vegetables. All documented experiments so far have attempted to remove imperfections, or otherwise improve the overall “quality” of the organism. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens; whether the practice becomes more common, and whether or not these scientist are actually making a difference.”