New research suggests that the controversial gene editing experiment ‘CRISPR,’ conducted by Chinese scientists, may have genetically altered the brain of the twins who had their genes edited last year before birth.
The gene-editing tool CRISPR was used to delete the CCR5 gene from human embryos because the virus that causes AIDS requires the CCR5 gene to enter human blood cells.
However, the gene alteration may have inadvertently enhanced cognition and memory of the twin girls who underwent the procedure in embryo form.
The study shows the genetic alteration subjected to CCR5 in the twin girls’ DNA makes mice smarter. It has the same effect on humans and also helps the brain to recover faster after stroke or traumatic brain injury.
The CCR5 gene is also linked to greater success in school as it is found that individuals who are naturally missing the gene in their DNA seem to advance in higher studies — which further suggests its role in everyday intelligence.
“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist who is involved in the study. “The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins.”
However, he also warns that all aspects of this mutation on the girls’ cognition are impossible to predict and “that is why it should not be done.”
It is unknown whether He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who conducted the CRISPR experiment, was also attempting to enhance the intelligence of the girls.
But it can be said that we are way far from the point where we can actually comprehend or predict the accidental consequences of gene-editing, for better or for worse.