- Genetically Modified Humans: The Story of He Jiankui
- The Discovery of the HIV Resistance Gene (CCR5 Delta 32 Mutation) and its Relation to the Black Death
- A Double-Edged Sword
Genetically Modified Humans: The Story of He Jiankui
In November 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced that he had created the world's first genetically modified twin baby girls, Lulu and Nana using CRISPR technology. He claimed to have edited the genes of twin girls to make them resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The edit, of a gene called CCR5, targeted a pathway used by the HIV virus to enter cells, and was claimed to give the babies immunity to HIV.
The announcement shocked the scientific community. Many scientists and ethicists raised concerns about the safety and ethics of gene editing in humans, particularly when it comes to editing the genes of embryos that could be passed onto future generations.
In January 2019, it was reported that He Jiankui had been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the controversial gene editing experiments. He Jiankui had announced earlier in 2023 that he had been granted a visa to Hong Kong under a scheme aimed at attracting talent to the city.
The Discovery of the HIV Resistance Gene (CCR5 Delta 32 Mutation) and its Relation to the Black Death
One of the most fascinating aspects of genetics is the way it can reveal the hidden connections between different aspects of our lives. One example of this is the discovery of the CCR5 delta 32 mutation, a genetic variation that provides resistance to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The CCR5 delta 32 mutation is found in a small percentage of people, particularly those of European descent. It affects a protein on the surface of immune cells, making it harder for the virus to enter and infect them. As a result, people with the mutation are less susceptible to HIV infection and may have a better prognosis if they do become infected.
But the story of the CCR5 delta 32 mutation goes deeper than just HIV resistance. Some researchers believe that the mutation may have played a role in protecting people from the Black Death, the deadly plague that swept through Europe in the 14th century.
While the exact cause of the Black Death is still debated, it is believed to have been caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which was transmitted by fleas on rats. Some historians and geneticists have hypothesized that people with the CCR5 delta 32 mutation may have had some protection against the disease, as the mutation affects the immune system's response to bacterial infections as well as viral infections.
The discovery of the CCR5 delta 32 mutation has opened up new avenues of research into potential HIV treatments and cures. Scientists are exploring ways to use gene editing and other techniques to create the mutation in people who do not naturally have it. But the story of the mutation also highlights the complex interplay between genetics, disease, and history, and the ways in which our genetic heritage can shape our health and survival.
A Double-Edged Sword
While the CCR5 delta 32 mutation provides protection against HIV and may have played a role in protecting against the Black Death, the interplay between genetics, immunity, and disease can also have unintended consequences.
One potential issue with genetic modifications for disease resistance is the risk of unintended consequences. For example, a mutation that makes a person more resistant to one disease may make them more susceptible to another. Additionally, modifying genes related to the immune system can have implications for the body's ability to fight off other infections or for the development of autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. These diseases can be debilitating and difficult to treat. Some researchers have raised concerns that genetic modifications to the immune system could increase the risk of autoimmune diseases.
However, others argue that the benefits of genetic modifications, such as protection against deadly diseases like HIV or COVID-19, outweigh the potential risks. The key, they say, is to carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of each specific modification and to develop clear ethical guidelines and regulations for their use.
As research into gene editing and genetic modifications continues to advance, it will be important to consider not just the potential benefits of these technologies, but also the potential risks and unintended consequences. By taking a careful and cautious approach, we may be able to harness the power of genetics to improve human health and well-being while avoiding unintended harm.