Frankie Schembrie in Science:
This week, on the eve of the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, China, He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, shocked many with claims that his team had used CRISPR-Cas9 to engineer the DNA of twin baby girls born recently to cripple a key receptor on white blood cells to make them HIV-resistant. The claim—yet to be reported in a scientific paper—was met with a firestorm of criticism, with some scientists and bioethicists calling the work “premature,” “ethically problematic,” and even “monstrous.”
NASA’s InSight spacecraft survived its harrowing descent through the thin atmosphere of Mars and successfully landed on the planet’s surface this week. Although InSight didn’t hit the bull’s-eye of its target landing zone, the soil-filled crater into which the craft touched down offers a good environment for the lander to deploy instruments for studying the planet’s interior.
This week, only one prominent scientist quickly spoke out in defense of He Jiankui, the Chinese research who claimed to have created the first gene-edited children: geneticist George Church, whose Harvard University lab played a pioneering role in developing CRISPR, the genome editor used to engineer embryonic cells in the controversial experiment. Although Church has reservations about He’s actions, he also says the frenzy of criticism surrounding the experiment was extreme.