Letters: ‘The Issue Goes Beyond CRISPR’

Readers weigh in on the ethical and biological dangers of human-genome editing.

Anthony Wallace / Getty

The CRISPR Baby Scandal Gets Worse by the Day

The young Chinese researcher He Jiankui came under fire recently after the news broke that he had allegedly made the first CRISPR-edited babies, and that another early pregnancy is underway. Last week, Ed Yong outlined the 15 most damning details about the experiment and the circumstances surrounding it.

Thank you for this article and for keeping the public informed about these crucial developments in genetic engineering. One thing I wish I saw brought to attention in regards to the twins and their health is that He overtly violated the Hippocratic oath, that is, first do no harm. If He altered a gene in order to “protect them from HIV” in a way that was not necessary and could have been accomplished with lower-risk interventions, he’s violated a sacred oath that both physicians and scientists working in the medical field have abided by for centuries. By altering their genetic code, he has opened the risk for harm when it was not necessary, based on the information provided in your article.

Martha Lynn Coon
Austin, Texas

My biggest fear of human-genome editing is that even if it may not have off-target effects affecting protein functions, it can affect chromatin dynamics by affecting its proper condensation, folding, and unfolding. We may not detect the effect in one or two generations, but in the long run we may see an irreversible destabilization of our genome, giving rise to a high percentage of birth defects.

Yuntao Wu
Professor of Molecular Virology and Immunology
Manassass, Va.

The issue goes beyond CRISPR but certainly includes it: AI, cybersoftware, smartphones, and the monitoring of every mode of communication we use by governments and by other actors are real and are right now. We have had any number of wake-up calls on this point, yet we drill down into the particular and inevitably promote the ludicrous notion that we can regulate a solution. The progress of technology has been and continues to be investing more and more power into the hands of fewer individuals. The very idea of a regulatory body that could effectively limit or control CRISPR, guns, cybersoftware, etc. is even more hideous to consider. It would take an organization more powerful than any government for each.

Charles J. Budde
St. Louis, Mo.