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Science & Tech

Genetically Engineered Babies’ Higher Mortality Risk

(Jilian Mincer/Reuters)

Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

The Chinese genetic engineer He Jiankui (known as JK) germline edited twins to knock out a gene associated with HIV infection — a medically unnecessary action even without the potential health problems mentioned below. This means the edit will pass down the generations if the babies eventually have children of their own.

But genetic expression is a very complicated process and we are nowhere near knowing how it all works together. It is thus hardly surprising that the gene fix JK edited into these babies’ genomes may put them at a higher risk of early mortality. From the Yahoo News story:

A new wide-ranging study of genetic make-up and death registry information suggests individuals carrying the D32 mutation face a 20-percent higher risk of early death compared with the global population.

Researchers from the University of Berkeley California examined the health data of 409,000 people of British ancestry and looked at whether or not they possessed the mutation, which occurs naturally in around one percent of the population, and how and when they died.

After correcting for the ages of those involved, they found those with the mutation were 21 percent more likely to die before the age of 76 than those who did not.

They found that D32 possessors were significantly more likely to die from diseases that are far more common than HIV, notably influenza.

What a reckless, irresponsible man.

But then so is the international community, which appears unable or unwilling to forge a legally binding world-wide moratorium on human germline editing experiments to allow time to work out the many ethical and safety issues inextricably knotted with this technology.

That’s unacceptable. JK wasn’t rogue, meaning The Scientists cannot be trusted to self-regulate. Remember, Eisenhower didn’t only warn about the military industrial complex,” but also of becoming captive” to the scientific-technological elite.

Don’t just sit there: Do something! The USA can at least pass laws or promulgate regulations that deny all patent and other international intellectual property protections for any product or process developed from human germline editing experiments.

Perhaps the prospect of being denied a potential fortune will be sufficient to induce the scientific-technological elite onto a more reasonable and cooperative path.


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