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China science

Are gene-edited babies safe from HIV mutations? Chinese scientist’s haste may yield unwanted results

    PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 9:45am
    UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 9:45am

    I refer to the article “Scientist in gene-edit storm to face probe” (November 28). While it is undeniable that biologist He Jiankui made a significant breakthrough in genetic modification, it was not wise of him to proceed in haste.

    Granted, He may have developed the technology for the betterment of mankind in the fight against Aids, and was building on the foundations laid by his equally controversial predecessors. I also understand that he wanted to speed up the development of genetic modification in the hope that certain genetic diseases or inherited ailments could be eradicated in future generations. But he neglected to act on his ambitions carefully.

    Tampering with life as we know it could lead to catastrophic results, such as malignant mutations or upsetting the current biodiversity. Considering that viruses are exceptional at mutating and adapting to unfavourable conditions, He should have proceeded with extra caution.

    Experimentation on such delicate matters should start with research on single cells or, at most, small animals such as lab rats in a controlled setting, so that the experimental subjects can be easily destroyed without causing much trouble. Human experimentation should only be conducted after thorough evidence has shown that there are no adverse effects on live subjects, and it should be closely monitored by governmental organisations, or even the World Health Organisation in this case.

    Directly modifying human genes may violate morality codes and human rights, and if dangerous results surface as the newborns grow, there would be further controversy regarding how these human subjects should be treated.

    Why He Jiankui’s genetic adventurism is bad news for science

    In the classic blockbuster Jurassic Park, Dr Ian Malcolm said, “Life finds a way.” The film clearly demonstrated how reckless meddling with life and genetics can have disastrous consequences. With the recent demonstration of one man trying to fight nature, I can only pray that Mother Nature has mercy on humans, and refrains from striking back with terrors I dare not dream of.

    Phoebe Yeung, Tuen Mun