CRISPR gene editing has been used to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in hopes of rendering human babies resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.
The Associated Press reported that He Jiankui said one couple in the trial gave birth to twin girls this month.
Nature News- Genome-edited baby claim provokes international outcry
The claims have not been verified through independent genome testing, nor published in a peer-reviewed journal. But, if true, the twins’ birth would represent a significant — and controversial — leap in the use of genome editing. Until now, the use of these tools in embryos has been limited to research, often to investigate the benefit of using the technology to eliminate disease-causing mutations from the human germ line. But some studies have reported off-target effects, raising significant safety concerns.
The birth of the first genetically tailored humans would be a stunning medical achievement, for both He and China.
There are roughly 10,000 monogenic or single-gene diseases. Only 5% are treatable today. Being able to treat all of those diseases is worth about $70 billion per year.
We will see single gene applications of CRISPR in near future, but identifying causal variants for complex traits / disease risks (necessary prerequisite for more advanced applications) will take significant effort and many years (my guess, perhaps a decade)… https://t.co/DdzPCkqeW0
— steve hsu (@hsu_steve) November 26, 2018
Genetic Testing Currently Adds $10,000 to IVF Treatment Cost
Globally about 2 million cycles of IVF are performed each year. IVF is growing at ~7% per year. IVF is growing at 20-30% in China. China will be the major driver of IVF demand growth. This will increase global IVF growth towards 20-30% per year.
The US average IVF cost is over $20,000 for each try and testing can add $10,000 or more. This requires an unpleasant two-week process of ovarian stimulation and egg harvesting. In some Asian countries like Thailand or in Mexico the cost of IVF is far lower.
The new CRISPR gene editing would add additional costs but wealthy couples would see the value in guaranteeing that their child was immune to as many diseases as possible. By genetically engineering the embryos it would mean the immunity would be passed down to future generations.
China had 17-18 million births per year and about 100K-200K were IVF births in 2017. By 2025, China should have about 1 million IVF births per year.
Denmark leads the world in IVF rates. 10% of all Denmark births are via IVF. Denmark has socialized medicine and a desperate need for a higher birthrate.
If China matches Denmark’s levels of IVF by 2030, then China would have about 2 million IVF births per year. China had more than 40 million patients with fertility problems in 2016.
This new development will become widespread. Making children immune to diseases could ramp up the use of IVF to higher percentages.
* IVF was already trending to 5-20% of all births in Asia and parts of Europe
* IVF was already used with genetic screening
* CRISPR is being used for medical treatments in many clinical trials
* Most of China will be at the Portugal and Spain level of per capita income around 2030
* People in China and Asia have a more open attitude to genetic enhancement than people in western countries
There are major differences in national behaviors in regards to medical procedures around births.
Different Views on Gene Editing for Enhancement
Caesarean section rates are far higher in China, parts of Asia and parts of Europe. China has 46% Caesarean section rates. Some parts of China have 80% caesarean section rates.
The US mostly has a culture of natural births. The US has 32% caesarean section rates.
A phone survey by Harvard found only 11% of Americans said gene editing to enhance the intelligence of babies should be legal. 26% of Americans said gene editing to reduce the risk of disease in babies should be legal.
Other surveys in China and India found a majority were in favor of gene editing to reduce disease risk and gene editing to enhance intelligence.
Recent surveys suggest that the public supports genome editing in embryos if it fixes disease-causing mutations. In December 2017, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a London-based independent advisory committee, published a survey of 319 people. Nearly 70% of those supported gene editing if it allowed infertile couples to have children, or if it allowed a couple to alter a disease-causing mutation in an embryo. A larger survey of 4,196 Chinese citizens, released last month, reported a similar level of support for modifying genes if the goal is to avoid a disease. But respondents were opposed to using it to enhance IQ or athletic ability, or to change skin color.
Future of Tiger Moms and Intelligence Enhancement
Nextbigfuture predicted in 2014 that there would be massive IVF popularity. The One Child Policy was lifted. The more older women have or try to have babies then the more IVF there will be. If there is IVF then it is easy to add in genetic modification. Nextbigfuture also predicted that Tiger Moms would drive the use of genetic engineering for intelligence enhancement.
Intelligence is 40-80% inheritable. There are thousands of genes that genetically determine intelligence. According to Steve Hsu’s estimates (based on actual data) most humans have (order of magnitude) 1000 rare (-) alleles for intelligence and height
One standard deviation above average has (very roughly) 30 fewer (-) variants. No negative alleles might be 30 Standard deviations (SD) above average. Such a person has yet to exist in human history… Each standard deviation (SD) up or down are defined as 15 IQ points greater or less. 95 percent of the population scores an IQ between 70 and 130, which is within two standard deviations of the mean. 30 SD above average would be and IQ of 550. This is still about 20 years away. We are still ten years away from identifying all of the intelligence related genes. 9 Standard Deviations over average would be a 235 IQ. This is the equivalent in intelligence of a 8 foot 1 inch person in height.
Geniuses and Society
5% of population with 30 points higher intelligence might be about $14000 more GDP per capita
5% of population with 120 points higher intelligence might be about $56000 more GDP per capita
What would a society with tens of millions of Edisons, Einsteins, Steve Jobs and Elon Musks be like ?
Could we get beyond them in capability?
20% of population significantly intelligence enhanced would be possible as IVF takes off, embryo selection and genetic engineering with it over the next 10-20 years.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
37 thoughts on “CRISPR Gene Engineered Human Babies Immune to HIV, Smallpox and Cholera”
The larger the head, the more difficulty during child birth. Our species actually gives birth prematurely compared to other species, just so we can get away with having a head that is larger later, but there are limits to how premature we can delver viable children.
Getting every child at recess or lunch to wear a helmet while playing would be a real challenge.
You say we could have stronger ligaments and tendons, maybe, but that is pure speculation. I have not heard that any animal has stronger tendons or ligaments relative to their cross sections. Perhaps.
Bones can be stronger by being denser, but then they are heavier and swimming will be difficult, and accelerating. Lots of stuff would be harder or slower with heavier bones.
Maybe we could borrow the genes that make shells so strong…getting all that to work sounds like it would take quite a bit. https://phys.org/news/2016-08-synthetic-mother-of-pearl.html
Actually to be more successful in space you would want an entirely different set of changes.
I see no reason they would all be similar. Most of the genes we don’t even know what they do. Why would anyone edit something when they did not know what it did? And not everyone has the same tastes or priorities.
I would expect an explosion in diversity from gene editing not a truncating.
If only people with a genetic disease will survive some contagion, that would be a disaster, and would likely end the species anyway.
As I mention below, without individuals who are already resistant to a disease, you don’t know what to engineer to be resistant. Hence you need the diversity to be already present before the disease hits.
The problem is you cannot tell what genetic change to engineer unless you have some people who are resistant. If everyone has similar genotypes then we won’t have any clue to work off.
If you can do all this, making tendons, bones and ligaments stronger would also be possible.
Tendons, ligaments, and bones can be reinforced. And maybe the brain can be cushioned better with a larger, thicker skull? Or just wear a helmet when sprinting.
“How could hair color harm the fetus”
Maybe read up on agouti mouse model of epigenetics and come back to me then.
You just know this stuff is gonna get into the wrong hands, you just KNOW. When it does, I will be glad to be dead, for this technology in the hands of power-crazed lunatics will be the end of humanity as we know it, and NO, the new humanity will NOT be an improvement ; it will be a cesspool of greed and twisted mutation.
And why do people have to be absurdly tall?
You also do not want so much strength that you tear your tendons and ligaments. Elite athletes are so strong they are tearing tendons and ligaments already.
The faster you run the harder the impact and the greater the risk of traumatic brain injury.
The loss of genetic diversity is a problem to natural populations. A disease can kill while populations.
How is that a problem to humans who have mastered gene editing? Variety can be created artificially,whenever wanted
My comment was deleted because I backed up my claims with studies. Misread something in the article anyway.
Even our pathetic education results in 1 to 5 IQ points gained by each additional year of education: Google “How Much Does Education Really Boost Intelligence?
A new analysis estimates the potential gain in IQ points.”
I think it would be far higher if we used better educational techniques. And I believe starting earlier would have a larger effect. I never said IQ was not the result of many genes…just not thousands…and I have profound doubt that the ones they have identified do. And, really, searching for IQ in DNA is a little silly. Intelligence is a number of different abilities each should be investigated separately to identify the relevant genes.
The 1,000 rare alleles? Well, when something is rare, you can’t say much about it as the statistical evidence is too weak.
Why am I incredulous when these big computer crunching reports come out with 1,000 genes that do this or that? Several height studies missed the gene that made the largest difference in height, which was later discovered by accident. Google: “High-fat diet made Inuits healthier but shorter thanks to gene mutations, study finds” The technique will find stuff regardless of whether there is anything to find. Height, IQ, these things are too affected by what people have eaten and what their mothers ate during pregnancy.
Your two worries counteract eachother.
The development of genetic tribalism will act precisely to prevent genetic uniformity.
I think the point is that the genie was let out of the bottle in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick .
Great, now when I put a link in my whole comment disappears…lovely.
In a sense, the ability to genetically modify guaranties there will be no speciation, as we can combine genes regardless of previous species distinctions.
As genetic modification is embraced many of the previous tribal distinguishing features will disappear, except in those obsessed with not making any modifications, and chances are even though they will be from all sorts of backgrounds they will be more united and mix more often than they would without this “other”.
And our gene pool will be multiplied rather than truncated. Rare harmless things will be more common, and some better version animal and archaic human genes will be added.
And if some disease cropped up that some allele helped protect against, in a few years or maybe only a week everyone at risk could get that modification. That is far faster than selection could ever work.
Genetic modification is a profoundly empowering thing. Yes, there is the potential for misuse, but that is true with most things. So far we have not nuked the Earth, nor have bioweapons become the weapons of choice. I think we can do this disaster free.
Greed as usual is the real problem. I think companies will look for genes that dispose the public to buying their products. And they may foot the bill for modifying your children as long as those genes are added. They may work hand in hand with those who want to make it expensive by making it propitiatory, limiting the people who can make modifications, getting fines in place…
The opposite is far more likely to be true. Anything you want to add…you can…even from another species or archaic human. Anything we sequence can be stored and written in the future. We will have a multiplying of our genetic pool.
It is not a thought out concern at all.
Things that are more rare and harmless will become far more common increasing our theoretical ability to adapt. A lot of people like dimples. Well, now your kids can have them. Bright green eyes? No problem. Curly hair? No problem.
Impossible to say debilitating genetic diseases are not useful? That is silly. Some things are pretty clear.
If some pathogen came around and killed everyone except those with cystic fibrosis…well that would be a very sad remnant indeed. And profoundly unlikely.
They give one and only one example over and over, it is not compelling to me at all. Sickle cell trait may help one survive malaria at the cost of many other people dying or living in agony with sickle cell disease. To me this is just a scaring of our genome by a disease. And everyone will recognize it as such when we eradicate malaria.
For most diseases our genes don’t make much of a difference. What maters is what antibodies we got from our mother’s colostrum, and the previous infections we have had.
So virus will have to mutate and will be more successful with people without gene editing protections? Which would mean us?
We only have about 20,000 genes and most of that does not very person to person. Unlike most species, humans went through a genetic bottleneck about 70,000 years ago where less than 2,000 people survived and despite what our brains tell us we are very similar; far more similar than any 2 chimps. We are wired to see differences in faces especially. We have a dedicated part of the brain just to do that. So we can recognize people. But it also exaggerates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8cXus7SNQY&t=288s The presumed “1,000 rare alleles” that add intelligence are almost certainly mostly harmful or make no difference. When something is rare, you also have a lot less data points and you will get a lot of statistical noise.
If they really were so fantastic they would already have been selected for…and would not be rare.
Maybe there are 50 or 100 that are recent and haven’t had a chance to spread. But that is optimistic.
The reality is that most people don’t move around much but where they live can effect IQ dramatically. Living by the ocean where they fish to get enough nutrition is going to result in higher IQs and whatever family genetic oddball genes they have will appear to confer IQ. Similarly if the family lived inland in an area with very little iodine, whatever genetic rarities they had would appear to make them not so bright.
Iodine level during pregnancy can make more than a full standard deviation difference in IQ, and it has other cognitive benefits.
Last sentence should have been “I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done….”
One concern is loss of genetic diversity. We know this is important for survival in the long run and it’s impossible to say prior to the selection, which variants may be critical.
Although disease resistance is an obvious example, you can even imagine this with regard to personality type. Certain features may be desired by parents and yet the types of people selected against could play critical roles in society for addressing certain challenges.
Another concern is tribalism. Humans use almost any excuse to differentiate “us” from “them”. Most of these excuses don’t have much basis in reality apart from fear of the unknown and our propensity to generalise. However with different sets of people gaining particular genetic modifications you can easily see this ramping up to be a MAJOR factor in encouraging intra-species conflict – who knows, eventually leading to speciation??
I’m not saying it should be done but we should also be aware of the real risks.
A review of this news and a case against genetic editing…
One concern is loss of genetic diversity. We know this is important for survival in the long run and it’s impossible to say before hand what variants may be critical.
Nonsense. Even our pathetic education results in 1 to 5 IQ points gained by each additional year of education: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brainstorm/201806/how-much-does-education-really-boost-intelligence
I think it would be far higher if we used better educational techniques. And I believe starting earlier and teaching different things would have a larger effect. I never said IQ was not the result of many genes…just not many thousands…and I have profound doubt that the ones they have identified do…unless you are talking rare defects…just because cells are hampered generally. And, really, searching for IQ in DNA is a little silly. Intelligence is a number of different aptitudes. Each should be investigated separately to identify the relevant genes.
If their techniques are so good, how is it they missed a large height gene that makes more of a difference than any they found?: http://theconversation.com/high-fat-diet-made-inuits-healthier-but-shorter-thanks-to-gene-mutations-study-finds-47529
Before you fearmongers get too worked into a lather, you should identify concretely how the changes you would ban would be detrimental.
If a parent picks hair color and eye color, how does that do harm?
Genetic diseases? A lot of people apparently can’t think strait. Of course, we should fix damage. It used to be that internal surgery was considered “playing God”. This is just a new form of operation…genetic surgery.
And to people who think, “Oh dear, these changes will persist”, I say GOOD! If we fix the next few generations so there are few if any inherited defects, that will be a great service and legacy for the future.
Mistakes? The more we get experience, the less mistakes we will make and the more likely we can fix those made previously.
There should be reason to think something is suboptimal to prohibit a particular modification.
I would ban:
physical extremes in proportions or size.
making a person appear more like an animal, or alien, (anything non-human in appearance, movement or sound)
reducing senses or their processing
reducing intelligence, memory, creativeness, ingenuity, self-control, sanity
obstructing body language
promoting greed, selfishness, inconsideration, rudeness, and other social flaws
making people genetically incompatible
obstructing basic actions/pleasures
comic effect changes
This is patent nonsense. Twin studies and sibling studies have pretty conclusively shown that shared environment (“quality education”, etc.) plays basically no role on a person’s intelligence (by the time your an aduly, shared environmental effects disappear). To the extent that environment plays any role at all, it’s all just randomness (chance events in utero, etc.). I also don’t know where you get the claim that polygenicity is inherently suspect.
Can you increase the number of characters we can use in a comment? This is ridiculous.
Early interaction, toy choices, and exposures to patterns, art, music, etc. can have an impact as well.
If a child’s peers are morons that is going to have negative consequences. Similarly, if they are bright, the child will benefit.
Early apprenticeships can also be very helpful in a person achieving true mastery of some skill.
I think learning to program is beneficial.
I think learning to play a musical instrument can be beneficial.
I think learning some games proficiently is beneficial, like Chess, Go, Bridge, and others.
I think it is useful for developing empathy and understanding other minds to be exposed to a variety of different domesticated animals.
Nurturing the desire to understand how things are made, how they work and how they are used is valuable.
Being exposed to more than one language I think is constructive.
Learning the languages your native language is based on I think is beneficial.
Memorization is often played down, but I think memory skills are very beneficial.
Good to have siblings, generally. Identical twin is best, I believe.
There are things that create minor negative effects as well. If negative traits are routinely modeled by parents and others, that can be very destructive. As can the same thing from the media.
Hot humid climates can be detrimental, as it is hard to think in those conditions.
Not ideal sleeping conditions are detrimental.
Not a bad idea at all! Good one.
This is a GENIE that does NOT need to be let out of the bottle. I don’t care how beneficial this might be for future parents, YOU KNOW good and well, some one, or some government will ATTEMPT to build a “super race” with this technology, no matter how well they try to keep it controlled.
You should name your hypothetical child “Khan Noonien Singh”.
When they say thousands of genes affect something, in my opinion, that really means their methods for finding genes were ineffective. And that is likely because environment has been ignored.
They have a weak signal from lots of genes…it is just statistics. Listen to static, there is a texture to it. But it is just random noise.
I am not saying there are no genes involved, just that we can’t identify them because environment can have a massive impact. When everyone has exactly the same environment, then the effects of the genes will be more noticeable. But as it stands, environment is exceptionally varied.
What affects IQ the most? :
head trauma/extreme oxygen deprivation
toxins and viruses
Yes, easier to break something than to make it better. But good stuff can make a difference as well:
Optimal nutrition especially before birth. High levels of choline, fresh fruit, iodine (but not too much), and sea food, make a huge difference…like a full standard deviation or more compared with what is consumed during a typical pregnancy in the US.
Quality education especially tutoring. This is how many great achievements happened. And even today, the kids that become chess grandmasters have thousands of hours of training by coaches. The kids that win the math contests? Thousands of hours of training. Most prodigies are mostly made. Motivation and diligence required.
BTW, another way this could be used. Considering the head transplant operations going on, it stands to reason we have the ability (or will soon) to regrow nerves in the spinal column. If we could do that, then we could have a clone made (with a very basic monkey type brain) with all the improvements listed above from our own cells. There would be no risk of rejections by the body as long as we leave the immune system alone. Just move our brain from our old body (once the new body hits 16 yrs old + to let the skull grow large enough), fixing any damage or issues in the aged brain at the same time. That way we would not have to permanently change our genetics, but could have all the improvements. It would be easier to fix a brain than an entire already old body. To quote a famous man “Just Saying”
I notice you didn’t mention drinking alcohol. Why would that be considering the lifelong effects?
coming from China we should be skeptical until this is independently verified
I don’t have a moral issue with improving the genes of children, just a fear that it be done correctly. If these genes are going to be passed down through the generations then they need to be sure they are not going to cause more problems than they fix. Why stop at intelligence though? We could import the top 1% of human genes for height, strength, speed, efficient oxygen usage etc.
I wouldn’t mind having a child with dark black skin, Icelandic blue eyes, epicanthic fold eyes and blond hair (lol) who is super athletic and hyper intelligent, 6’5″ tall and 2x the reflex speed (through improvements in myelin sheathing) and 4x times the strength per muscle density. It would absolutely be the end of the concept of race, that’s for sure.
There will always have to be trade offs in abilities though. An example would be muscle density would make for poor swimming abilities. Another would be very muscular children would need more food and oxygen to sustain it during heavy exertions than a standard human. Hyper intelligence may have other trade offs we cannot see yet, thinking themselves into inactivity and unable to complete tasks.
There are a lot of parents willing to sacrifice an awful lot to give their kids even a tiny advantage in life. Gattaca is coming and that doesn’t even involve gene editing, just screening which naturally produced gametes will be allowed to create zygotes. Pretty much what we’ve been doing with almost every species of plant and animal we’ve ever been involved with, just at a finer level of detail.
My prognostication is that medical tourism will propel gene editing, and possibly even human cloning, despite the best efforts of western politicians and some religions. If nothing else, Saudi, for one, is a big time supporter of this stuff, and they’ve just proven they can get away with almost anything and not be terribly inconvenienced.
The genes that stop you smoking dope and tattoo cannibalism.
Hopefully they don’t figure out which genes give creativity…
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