The question and answer interview of He Jianku conference presentation has the most interesting parts of this debate about human gene editing of embryos. The interview starts at about 1 hour and 28 minutes of the record. The formal presentation showed that the scientist He has taken appropriate scientific care to perform the work. He took care to make sure it was on target and was successful. He took care to make sure there were no unintended off-target side-effects.
* the parents (father HIV positive) made a choice to use the edited embryos versus unedited
* the CRISPR vector used to make the change. Appears to be the kind that can be ordered for about $100. There have been adult people who have self-experimented with mail order gene editing kits
* the conference interviewer asked about whether He Jianku was aware of a few other research papers. Some paper suggests that the gene CCR5 could cause increased susceptibility to flu and another suggests a tiny increase in cognitive effect.
Intelligence is controlled by many thousands of genes.
A commenter on Infoproc checked the effect of IQ vs CCR5 Delta32 mutation frequency. It is statistically very significant. It is due to geographical distribution. Glad that the effect was confirmed at least in the mouse model at 1:34.00.
The inferences that Nextbigfuture draws from this.
CRISPR gene editing of embryos is cheap. It adds about $100 to the cost of Invitro fertilization for the actual change of genes. The costs are far higher for all of the additional gene sequencing monitoring and confirmation of on target and no accidental off-target effects. The first checking and testing that it worked can be performed in the first trimester. The follow-up work cost varies depending upon the final protocol for verifications.
There will be continuing efforts for improvement of gene editing accuracy and lowering of off-target.
Nextbigfuture has predicted since 2014 that there would be increasing levels of IVF (invitro fertilization). It is already 10% of all babies in Denmark and 5% of babies Japan and just over 1% of babies in China. However, China is rapidly heading towards the 10+% level. There are 40 million couples in China who are having trouble conceiving. I believe many of those couples will use IVF to successfully conceive over the next decade.
Nextbigfuture believes many countries will end up in the 5-20% IVF baby range. In particular countries in Asia and Europe facing an aging population crisis. The governments will make IVF free or virtually free to increase birthrates. Japan is already offering bribes to couples to have babies and subsidizing IVF to lower-income families. Denmark offers IVF as part of the government health plan. I believe China will end up offering IVF as part of a national health plan and end up exceeding the payments (on a payment to income level basis) for couples to have babies.
The costs for intelligence enhancement will continue to drop but we are still years away from completing our understanding of intelligence genes.
However, once this information is available the genetic screening will enable ranking of intelligence for embryos. Embryo selection (best one out of ten or twenty) will be enabled. Embryo selection would then be enhanced with eventually a few dozen to a few hundred edits to fix up the child.
Costs for genetic screening is about $10,000 now. This price will come down. However, gene editing will require multiple genetic screenings and tests. Genetic screen once on several embryos will be performed to pick the superior embryo. Gene editing as an option would be performed on the selected embryo. This is currently about $100 per gene edit. This price is decreasing. Then there would be two or more whole genome sequencings to confirm successful on target gene edits without any off-target changes.
Stephen Hsu Has a Genetics Startup and Has Worked with Gene Sequencing Companies
Here is a quote from Stephen Hsu.
From genotype, we can predict cognitive ability (i.e., IQ) with correlation r ~ 0.3 to 0.4, which is as well as standardized tests like SAT or ACT predict college performance. This is nowhere near the accuracy of, for example, height prediction. However, despite the SAT’s only moderate accuracy, it is easy to understand why colleges are reluctant to admit students with low (say, bottom 10%) scores, and generally very enthusiastic about students with high scores. It’s similar with the current genomic predictors. We can identify embryos that have unusually high risk of intellectual disability but we can’t reliably rank-order embryos that are in the normal range.
At the moment, the situation is even worse for predicting Big-5 personality traits, such as conscientiousness or extraversion, even though we know those traits are fairly heritable. I expect the situation for all psychological traits to improve drastically in the near future as more data become available.
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.