The idea that genetic modification can improve humanity isn’t new, but it has taken some interesting turns within the scientific community over the past few years. He Jiankui is a Chinese geneticist who was jailed for gene-editing human babies. Now, He, known as JK to friends, thinks that gene-edited humans could be the future of our species.
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According to a new profile piece by The New Yorker, JK’s work on genetic modification seems to be driven by one major goal – make humanity better. JK’s goal was to make humanity better by editing genes in embryos. This would help to prevent diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV. The entire thing seems almost like someone trying to play god, and JK ended up in prison for his troubles.
Now, however, after being released from prison, it appears that the scientist is planning to resume his research on gene-edited human. But how does someone get access to embryos to try their hand at making gene-edited babies? JK’s approach was very clever.
He began by focusing on a method to reduce the HIV risk. He then used this focus to find couples in HIV/Aids groups. In these couples, one partner was infected, and the other wasn’t. For these couples, JK’s gene editing was a real chance to have a child without worrying about HIV transmission.
Of course, the entire idea is very ambitious and certainly toes the line between morally right and scientifically too far. It’s also unclear what the current state of embryos JK worked with in the past are, or how former patients of his are faring.
Now he is out of jail, it’s likely that we will see him find new ways to progress his research in order to create gene-editing human beings. After all, we’ve already made genetically modified mosquitos, and genetically modified cats could allow us to remove their allergen-causing genes. It’s not surprising that scientists are looking to harness this power to benefit humanity.
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