Chinese Scientists Have Edited the Genes of Human Embryos—Again - Atlas Obscura
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Chinese Scientists Have Edited the Genes of Human Embryos—Again

The future is fast approaching.

(Photo: Geoff Hutchison/CC BY-ND 2.0)

In 50 years, when water has submerged Manhattan, disease has been edited out of the human genome, and the world has become an Orwellian dystopia, you may think about this past year, remembering vaguely that it was around then that that awe-inspiring and slightly terrifying phrase first came across your computer screen: gene editing.

Scientists in China first reported successfully editing the human genome last year, using a system known as CRISPR that is frighteningly efficient and has set off ethical debates

Last week, a separate team in that country said they’ve edited human genes as well, setting the stage for further development in a field that may or may not portend a dark future for humanity. 

Some of the fears involve gene editing’s potential use in eugenics as well as a possible upending of human genetic inheritance, with massive unintended consequences. 

But! Maybe there’s nothing to see here for now: several experts told Nature that the Chinese research wasn’t quite the advancement they’d made it out to be. 

The research was conducted on nonviable embryos, and targeted a mutation occurring in some people that makes them more resistant to HIV. Could they introduce this mutation into embryos that didn’t have it? In some cases, they said, they could. 

But we already knew that, two scientists told Nature, adding that the research just highlighted how hard accurate gene editing actually is. 

In other words, perhaps it’s not time to panic just yet.