Gene-Edited Babies: What a Chinese Scientist Told an American Mentor

Investigations continue into Dr. He Jianku’s claim to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies. This article details responses from Dr. He’s American advisors when he was a postdoctoral fellow and grad student. The article raises a number of questions. Do faculty members — and academic institutions more generally — bear responsibility in the actions of the students they mentor? When does this obligation end? To whom should they report suspected ethical breaches or “corner cutting”? Especially when the students have moved on to other institutions or countries?

Article by Pam Belluck for the New York Times.

Image by Mark Schiefelbein, Associated Press: Dr. He’s team working on an embryo in a sperm injection microscope in Shenzhen, China.

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Multiple Lines of Mysterious Ancient Humans Interbred with Us

Our family tree is getting bushier with each new study!

Today, a study published in CELL draws on DNA analysis of living Southeast Asians to show that a fourth species of humans lived alongside modern humans, Denisovans, and Neanderthals . What’s more, the Denisovans were surprisingly diverse and may have been the last group to live beside modern humans, contributing to the DNA of modern humans as recently as 15,000 years ago.

Article: Maya Wei-Haas, National Geographic
Image text: Jason Treat and Maya Wei-Haas, NG Staff
Image source: Murray P. Cox, Massey University

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New Hominin Shakes the Family Tree—Again

Evolutionary anthropologist John Hawks shares his thoughts on the meaning of the latest discovery in the human family tree: a previously undiscovered new species of human relatives named Homo luzonensis after the island in the Philippines where they lived.

This post to the Sapiens.org anthropology blog, puts the finding in perspective: over the past 20 years there’s been a boom of unprecedented new discoveries. Not all may merit the label “new species” but they speak to many-branched human tree and many opportunities for new exploration.

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AiPT Science: Interview with creators of ‘ANYA,’ a genetic mystery movie

Thanks to Yelena Bernadskaya at Adventures in Poor Taste (AiPT) Science for a wonderful writeup of interviews with ANYA co-creator Dr. Carylanna Taylor and science advisor Dr. Ruth McCole on the science behind this fiction film.

“It’s very satisfying for me to see filmmakers put in the effort to portray science (and scientists) correctly and truthfully in their work. “ (AiPT Science, 3/14/19)


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China Uses DNA to Track Its People, With the Help of American Expertise

ANYA deals with unintended consequences of contemporary genetic technologies and broaches the related ethics.

Stories coming out in the news suggest we only scratched the surface of what’s coming. At the 2019 Festival of Genomics in London, I learned a new UK initiative to collect 5,000,000 human genomes for medical and insurance purposes. Norway and other countries have similar but smaller programs. More sequenced DNA means bigger more accurate data bases for personalized medicine, crime fighting, and other purposes.

From news coming out of China this week, it appears that mass collection of DNA has given us something else to worry about: surveillance, oppression, and thorny issues about how foreign corporations and academics participate in legitimizing activities that might be illegal or at least unethical at home.

Read the full article by Sui-Lee Wee for the NYT.

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CRISPR-Babies in the News

It’s been a week of fast and furious headlines as the news of the first “CRISPR babies” spreads since the original announcement by MIT Technology Review on 11/25/18. It’s been fascinating to watch how different media cover the story. It will be interesting to see if the public ultimately embraces the technological advance or meets it with a collective shrug. (Preliminary news analysis by ANYA filmmaker, anthropologist Carylanna Taylor).

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Genetically Modified People Are Walking Among Us

“It felt as if humanity had crossed an important line: In China, a scientist named He Jiankui announced on Monday that twins had been born in November with a gene that he had edited when they were embryos. But in some ways this news is not new at all. A few genetically modified people already walk among us.” Carl Zimmer (New York Times) goes on to remind us of a few of these cases, three-parent embryos through “mitochondrial replacement therapy.”

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We’re overdue for a society-wide conversation about this technology.

In the Washington Post, J. Benjamin Hurlbut, Sheila Jasanoff,  and Krishanu Saha hold the scientific community partly responsible the gene-editing “experiment that was not supposed to happen.” It’s a helpful summary of where the news of the possible first "CRISPR babies” by Dr. He Jiankui (pictured) and his team fits into current scientific consensus or lack thereof.

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The worst-case scenarios of CRISPR gene editing, according to Hollywood

“A scientist in China has dominated headlines this week with the claim that his research team has successfully created the world’s first genetically-edited babies. If true, the experiment raises a lot of difficult ethical questions—ones that mainstream films and TV shows have been exploring for decades.

The topic of genetic engineering is so prevalent in pop culture that it’s practically a genre unto itself. At the heart of these science fiction depictions is the issue of whether the benefits of genetic engineering—that is, potentially curing diseases—outweigh the colossal risks, which range from eugenics to unintended mutations.” (Adam Epstein, Quartz)

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Bloomberg Quicktake: Gene Editing

Looking to get up to speed fast on the news of the first gene-edited human embryo? Take a look at this accessible and informative overview for Bloomberg. My quick take on the subtext of John Lauerman’s article and Freya Ingrid Morales’s image? There are a lot of people in business and politics eager to make sense of this news.

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Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies

In this MIT Technology Review piece by Antonio Regalado, “[a] daring effort is under way to create the first children whose DNA has been tailored using gene editing.”

Like the characters in ANYA, scientists are grappling with the ethics of this breakthrough technology.

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