Op-Ed: Jiankui’s Genetic Engineering Allegations
Genetic engineering is the procedure of manually altering the DNA of an organism. It has already been implemented for many years in the fields of agriculture and medicine to create better crops, vaccines, and specialized bacteria.
Last month, Professor He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysics researcher, claimed to have genetically altered human beings for the first time in world history. Using the gene-editing technique Crispr, Jiankui said that he had implanted a new gene to give HIV resistance into a human embryo. Healthy twin girls were born on November 8, 2018.
When I initially heard of the possibility that DNA had been altered to resist HIV, and that the twin girls who have received this extent of gene editing were born completely healthy, I was shocked that someone had accomplished this and stood in awe at the fact that our world would never be the same with an amazing innovation of the like. Countless lives would be saved. Not only could this method succeed in creating humans immune to HIV, but to any other disease that proceeds to threaten lives daily. I was indeed close-minded to have believed this.
As I researched the topic further, it became apparent that Professor Jiankui did not by any means present reliable research to prove that his experiment really did occur and was accurate. And even if he truly accomplished this extreme form of genetic engineering, he has crossed thousands of ethical lines, not to mention that gene editing of the such is illegal in most countries. Many other scientists have agreed that if what Jiankui says he has done is in truth, he has taken an extreme leap in science and morality.
Genetically engineering “custom” humans would certainly lead to greater inequality, creating the possibility that genetically altered individuals could be viewed as superior to home-grown humans. This degree of genetic engineering therefore diminishes our ethics. Although genetically transmitted conditions would be prevented, the idea is far too premature to say that there is no long-term peril in doing so. A change made in our DNA may prove to be a mistake which could be impossible to undo and last for generations.
Until further evidence is shown, no one can be sure of the truth. One can only contemplate the possible results of Professor He Jiankui’s work if it is confirmed to be true.