German Ethics Council: Germline editing “not ethically out of the question” | European Scientist

On Monday, the German Ethics Council made public a 230-page report discussing their current position on human genome manipulation and in particular, germline editing. According to the press release published on 9 May, a few days before the report, “germline interventions currently too risky, but not ethically out of the question”.

The council made up of 26 ethicists, legal scholars, scientists, and other experts unanimously agreed there are no compelling philosophical arguments against altering human germlines, which they write is not “in principle, ethically reprehensible.” […]

The World Health Organization called for the establishment of a global registry of gene editing research on humans last March. And many scientists would now agree, genome-editing in the human germline should not be regulated by the scientific community but by law.

All members agreed “ the human germline is not inviolable”, although not all are in favour of the pursuing germline interventions – some are concerned the possible benefits may not outweigh the potential downsides.

https://www.europeanscientist.com/en/public-health/germline-editing-not-ethically-out-of-the-question/

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter | MIT Technology Review

Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613277/chinese-scientists-have-put-human-brain-genes-in-monkeysand-yes-they-may-be-smarter/

Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing | Nature

Eric Lander, Françoise Baylis, Feng Zhang, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Paul Berg and specialists from seven countries call for an international governance framework.

We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children.

By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban. Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.

China’s CRISPR twins might have had their brains inadvertently enhanced | MIT Technology Review

The brains of two genetically edited girls born in China last year may have been changed in ways that enhance cognition and memory, scientists say.

The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections. 

“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and “that is why it should not be done.” 

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612997/the-crispr-twins-had-their-brains-altered/


Scientists Release Controversial Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Lab | NPR

Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned.

For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy.

"This will really be a breakthrough experiment," says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. "It's a historic moment."

The goal is to see if the mosquitoes could eventually provide a powerful new weapon to help eradicate malaria in Africa, where most cases occur.

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/20/693735499/scientists-release-controversial-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-in-high-securit

"Rogue, Crazy": Alarm Over China Scientist's Claim Of Gene-Edited Babies

A Chinese scientist triggered alarm, shock and confusion across the scientific community Monday with the claim that he had edited the DNA of human embryos to create twin baby girls, Lulu and Nana, who he said had been born "crying into the world as healthy as any other babies" a few weeks ago.

The controversial experiment, publicized through the media and videos posted online by He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China, was criticized by many scientists worldwide as premature and called "rogue human experimentation." More than 120 Chinese scientists called the experiment "crazy" in a letter, adding that it dealt a huge blow to the global reputation of Chinese science. Southern University said in a statement it would be investigating the experiment, which appeared to have "seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct." 

He's unverified claim came on the eve of an international summit dedicated to discussing the emerging science and ethics around powerful tools that give scientists unprecedented potential to tweak traits and eliminate genetic diseases - but that have raised fears of "designer babies." By editing the DNA of human embryos, scientists change not just the genes in a single person, but all their potential offspring - in effect, altering the human species

https://www.ndtv.com/science/rouge-crazy-experts-concerns-on-chinese-scientist-he-jiankuis-designer-babies-1953810

Gene drives promise great gains and great dangers - On the extinction of the species

Extinctions are seldom cause for celebration. Humans are wiping out species at a frightening rate, whether hunting them into history or, far more threateningly, damaging the habitats on which they depend. But occasionally, the destruction is warranted. Smallpox was officially eradicated in 1980, and no one laments the fate of the virus that caused it; campaigns to save the virus that causes polio are thin on the ground. How, then, to think about a new technology that will make driving a species to extinction far easier?

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/11/08/gene-drives-promise-great-gains-and-great-dangers

Editing human embryos 'morally permissible' - BBC News

Should we or shouldn't we be allowed to modify human DNA in future children?

An inquiry into the ethical issues surrounding genetically altering a human embryo has found there is "no absolute reason not to pursue it".

But appropriate measures must be put in place before it becomes UK law, said the report - which calls for further research both medically and socially.

Inquiry chair, Prof Karen Yeung, said: "The implications for society are extensive, profound and long-term."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44849034

Report located here: http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/genome-editing-human-reproduction

End Canada’s criminal ban on contentious CRISPR gene-editing research, major science group urges | National Post

MONT-TREMBLANT, Que. — It’s one of the most exciting, and controversial, areas of health science today: new technology that can alter the genetic content of cells, potentially preventing inherited disease — or creating genetically enhanced humans.

But Canada is among the few countries in the world where working with the CRISPR gene-editing system on cells whose DNA can be passed down to future generations is a criminal offence, with penalties of up to 10 years in jail.

This week, one major science group announced it wants that changed, calling on the federal government to lift the prohibition and allow researchers to alter the genome of inheritable “germ” cells and embryos.

http://nationalpost.com/health/end-canadas-criminal-ban-on-contentious-crispr-gene-editing-research-major-science-group-urges

Science is inching closer to bringing species back from extinction — but the rise of necrofauna has risks | National Post

The gastric brooding frog is no regular frog. Like some horror story of ancient myth, it gives birth out of its mouth. After incubating fertilized eggs in its stomach, it literally vomits up its offspring at the moment of birth, having cleverly used its stomach as a temporary uterus.

Rather, it used to do this. The Australian amphibian was discovered in the 1970s, and by the mid 1980s, it had gone the way of 99 per cent of the four billion species that have roamed this planet. It went extinct, mostly because of a fungus introduced to its habitat by people.

Its end, however, marked a beginning of sorts: The death of the last gastric brooding frog almost exactly coincided with the first conference, in 1983, of the Extinct DNA Study Group, which produced a paper on recovering dinosaur DNA from blood-sucking insects preserved in amber, which made its way into the imagination of sci-fi writer Michael Crichton, and from there into popular culture as Jurassic Park.

http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/science-is-inching-closer-to-bringing-species-back-from-extinction-but-the-rise-of-necrofauna-has-risks

First Human Embryos Edited in U.S. - MIT Technology Review

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608350/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us/

One Man's Plan to Make Sure Gene Editing Doesn't Go Haywire - The Atlantic

It’s summer, which means that it’s also tick season. Through their bites, these bloodsuckers pick up the bacteria that cause Lyme disease from white-footed mice and then spread those microbes to people. They do so with particular verve on the island of Nantucket, Mass., where almost 40 percent of people have suffered through the rashes, fevers, and pain of Lyme.

For those beleaguered islanders, Kevin Esvelt has an offer.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/a-scientists-plan-to-protect-the-world-by-changing-how-science-is-done/532962/

Who will pay for CRISPR?

The ruckus over the CRISPR gene-editing system hides a dark reality: its high cost may make it unaffordable and questions remain whether most insurance companies will pay for it.

As CRISPR begins to move forward in clinical trials, there are some signals about how it may — or may not — be received commercially. Other types of gene therapies carry a price tag that is likely to induce sticker shock. If adopted, these therapies will add striking new cost burdens to our health care system.

“The cost isn’t coming down,” said Mark Trusheim, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s NEW Drug Development Paradigms, a think tank working on the problem of how we will pay for expensive new drugs. “Companies will say, ‘We are developing these medicines, just pay us’; insurers will say, ‘We can’t afford it.'”

https://www.statnews.com/2017/06/26/crispr-insurance-companies-pay/

CRISPR pioneer Doudna foresees world of woolly mammoths and unicorns

If there was one misstep that doomed the long and bitter fight by the University of California to wrest key CRISPR patents from the Broad Institute, it was star UC Berkeley scientist Jennifer Doudna’s habit of being scientifically cautious, realistic, and averse to overpromising.

A biochemist who co-led a breakthrough 2012 study of CRISPR-Cas9, Doudna repeatedly emphasized in interviews the challenges of repurposing the molecular system, which bacteria use to fend off viruses, to edit human genomes. The U.S. patent office, in a February ruling that let the Broad keep its CRISPR patents (for now), relied heavily on those statements — “We weren’t sure if CRISPR/Cas9 would work in … animal cells,” for example — to conclude that when scientists at the Broad CRISPR’d human cells in 2013, it was a non-obvious advance and therefore deserving of patents.

So it’s striking that the careful, measured Doudna who said CRISPR’ing human cells and thereby curing devastating diseases would be a challenge is hardly in evidence in “A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution,” the new book she co-authored with her former student Samuel Sternberg. It goes on sale Tuesday.

https://www.statnews.com/2017/06/11/crispr-jennifer-doudna-book/

The illusion of control in germline-engineering policy

The arrival and rapid adoption of the clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)–CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) system1 has sparked ethical and societal controversy around genome editing of the human germline. Here, I point out the fallacy that such technologies and their applications can be globally prohibited on the basis of universal ethics and bans—the so-called 'illusion of control'. A look at previous technological developments suggests instead that differentiated and multi-faceted approaches that take into account the broadest range of possible ethical and social issues would be preferable for the oversight of CRISPR–Cas9 germline engineering. Such an approach would not only be more effective but also ensure that society has the greatest chance of capitalizing on potential opportunities of the technology.

https://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v35/n6/full/nbt.3884.html

Will Editing Your Baby's Genes Be Mandatory? - The Atlantic

Designing a baby, or editing the genes of an unborn child, strikes many as risky, unseemly, unnatural, unethical, or likely to lead to a dystopian future of one sort or another. Still, I predict that within my lifetime, the United States will arrest, try, and convict some parents for refusing to edit the genes of their child before he or she is born.

U.S. Panel Endorses Designer Babies to Avoid Serious Disease

Since its invention four years ago, a powerful and precise technology for editing DNA called CRISPR has transformed science because of how it makes altering the genetic makeup of plants and animals easier than ever before.

But no possibility opened by gene-editing technology has been so exciting, frightening, or as hotly contested as its capacity to allow humanity, for the first time, to control the genetic constitution of children by applying CRISPR to human embryos, sperm, or eggs—cells which together make up the “germ line.”  

On Tuesday, in a striking acknowledgement that humanity is on the cusp of genetically modified children, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s source of blue-ribbon advice on science policy, recommended that germ-line modification of human beings be permitted in the future in certain narrow circumstances to prevent the birth of children with serious diseases.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603633/us-panel-endorses-designer-babies-to-avoid-serious-disease/

Rewriting the Code of Life

Esvelt, who is thirty-four, directs the “sculpting evolution” group at M.I.T., where he and his colleagues are attempting to design molecular tools capable of fundamentally altering the natural world. If the residents of Nantucket agree, Esvelt intends to use those tools to rewrite the DNA of white-footed mice to make them immune to the bacteria that cause Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. He and his team would breed the mice in the laboratory and then, as an initial experiment, release them on an uninhabited island. If the number of infected ticks begins to plummet, he would seek permission to repeat the process on Nantucket and on nearby Martha’s Vineyard.

More than a quarter of Nantucket’s residents have been infected with Lyme, which has become one of the most rapidly spreading diseases in the United States. The illness is often accompanied by a red bull’s-eye rash, along with fever and chills. When the disease is caught early enough, it can be cured in most cases with a single course of antibiotics. For many people, though, pain and neurological symptoms can persist for years. In communities throughout the Northeast, the fear of ticks has changed the nature of summer itself—few parents these days would permit a child to run barefoot through the grass or wander blithely into the woods.

“What if we could wave our hands and make this problem go away?” Esvelt asked the two dozen officials and members of the public who had assembled at the island’s police station for his presentation. He explained that white-footed mice are the principal reservoir of Lyme disease, which they pass, through ticks, to humans. “This is an ecological problem,” Esvelt said. “And we want to enact an ecological solution so that we break the transmission cycle that keeps ticks in the environment infected with these pathogens.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/02/rewriting-the-code-of-life

How CRISPR Ended Up As Such a High-Stakes Patent Fight

This week, the biggest science-patent dispute in decades is getting a hearing at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters. The invention in dispute is the gene-editing technique CRISPR, and at stake are millions, maybe even billions, of dollars for the winning side. CRISPR is the hugely hyped technology that could launch life-saving therapiesnovel genetically modified cropsnew forms of mosquito control, and more. It could—without much exaggeration—change the world.

Any company that wants to use CRISPR will have to license it from the patent dispute’s winner. The parties embroiled in this fight are universities: the Broad Institute, which is a research institute affiliated with MIT and Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley.* Their lawyers represent rival groups of scientists with claims to have first invented CRISPR. Berkeley’s group published their work and filed for a patent first, by a few months—but the patent office ended up awarding a patent to the Broad Institute’s group, due to some complicated procedural rules. The legal and scientific details of the dispute get pretty arcane pretty fast, but you can read some excellent reporting herehere, and here.

Chinese scientists CRISPR a human for the first time

A group of Chinese scientists injected a human being with cells genetically edited using CRISPR-Cas9 technology. This is the first time CRISPR has been used on a fully formed adult human and it’s encouraged a biomedical battle between China and the United States.

The scientists from China are hoping the genetically edited cells will help their patient fend off a virulent type of lung cancer in hopes it might work on other cancer patients who have not responded to chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments.