IT SAYS something, and something good, that the scientific community seems up in arms about that Chinese researcher who claims to be in the business of genetically “editing” babies. You might have thought that most scientists would have rallied around one of their own. But at a packed house during the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, at which the controversial researcher spoke, the audience wasn’t a friendly one.
After Dr. He Jiankui presented his still-dubious findings, the conference’s chairman took the podium to echo what many in the room apparently felt: That even modifying these twin baby girls to be, say, HIV resistant is an irresponsible step into the genetic world until safety issues have been dealt with.
While the scientific community’s response was surprising, the word coming out of mainland China is plumb shocking. The government in Beijing has spent a bundle on genetic research (as has the government in Washington, D.C.) but taking the step to edit babies is apparently still verboten, even in Red China. The government has ordered an investigation, and more than 120 Chinese scientists have condemned Dr. He for the “huge blow” to their reputations. Anger doesn’t always translate, but this is how CNN interpreted the statement from China’s best genetic researchers and doctors:
“It’s extremely unfair to Chinese scientists who are diligent, innovative and defending the bottom line of scientific ethics,” they wrote, adding that “directly experimenting on human is nothing but crazy . . . as soon as a living human is produced, no one could predict what kind of impact it will bring, as the modified inheritable substance will inevitably blend into human genome pool.”
Inevitably. Blend. Into human ge nome pool.
That part translated.
NB: These aren’t Western, conser vative, rumpled-shirt types standing astride of the world yelling STOP! These are scientists for Red China, involved in Sputnik 2.0 for genetics, and they disapprove of these experiments. And experi ments they are. For how know what oth er genetic buttons are turned on when one is turned off? Or turned off when another is turned on? Or if genetics even work this way?
And those are just a few questions about the physical well-being of the girls. When asked by a member of the Hong Kong audience what the social ef fects would be on the twins, that is, how would they be viewed and eventually treated by society, Dr. He answered:
“I don’t know how to answer this question.” Our point exactly.
CNN interviewed one researcher who was involved with making the genetic tool CRISPR. Dr. Jen nifer Doudna, a professor of, well, many things at UC-Berkeley, said she felt phys ically sick during Dr. He’s presentation.
“To see this work being presented and performed the way it was, it was really inappropriate,” she said. “And it affects two girls. I hope this is a wake up call for everybody to recognize that while this technology is incredibly excit ing, this is an important moment where we need to grapple with responsibility of managing this technology going for ward.”
Managing technology. That’s one way to put it, a scientist’s way to put it. An other way to put it: Madness, madness.
Folks in Hong Kong were whisper ing about whether there needs to be some sort of globally binding “code of conduct” for genetic researchers until Homo faber, man the toolmaker, better understands the effects of tampering with DNA code. But how would such a code be enforced? There’s always a Dr Moreau.
In the last few weeks, that’s been proven again.