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Genetically Engineered Embryos



중국의 유명 과학자가 세계 최초로 유전자를 편집한 아기 출산에 성공했다고 주장하면서 큰 파문이 일었다. 중국 언론에 따르면 허젠쿠이 교수는 유전자 가위를 이용하여 후천성면역결핍증을 일으키는 HIV 바이러스의 감염을 막기 위해 특정 유전자를 제거한 쌍둥이를 출산하는 데 성공했다고 주장했다. 국제적인 여론은 대체로 허젠쿠이의 연구를 ‘무책임하다’며 비판했다. 그의 주장이 만약 사실이라면, 과학계가 금기시하던 영역을 건드린 것이며, 윤리적인 비난을 피할 수 없는 상황이 되었다. 중국 당국도 즉각 허 교수의 이런 주장이 사실이라면 관련 법에 따라 처벌할 것이라며 조사를 시작했다.

Science fiction continuously sparked our curiosity about the future. Will there be flying cars? Can we live in Mars? Is it possible to clone ourselves? In real life, we hear of scientific breakthroughs almost every day—some of which could have been unimaginable to our ancestors. We have come a long way but, the looming question is, did we go too far?

Just recently, Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, a set of twin girls, using a technology initially design to correct genetic defects. At a Hong Kong meeting, he said that the father of the twins had HIV and wanted to make sure that the twins would never suffer the same fate. He’s experiment aims to disable “bad DNA” so that the twins can be resistant to potential HIV infection. He believes that there is real-world medical value to discovering how technology can cripple or prevent HIV.

However, He’s experiment was not without critics—a lot of them. Even though evidence and scientific journals of the test are yet to be shown to the public, many concerns have already been raised such as the ethical implications of such experiment. He edited the babies when they were just embryos which, for many scientists, is unacceptable. Gene editing on embryos never been done before and for good reasons. For one, the Chinese scientist genetically edited a healthy embryo which can result in off-target mutations capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life. It is called monstrous and unethical by many, earning He the title “China’s Frankenstein”.

We must also remember that the genetic changes in every cell from germline editing will be passed on to the future generations of that genetically engineered human. Any rash and irresponsible actions may lead to something a lot worse, like develop an unknown disease or defect and infect his or her children. The saddest thing about this experiment is that it might have been a part of the gold rush on new kind of knowledge—wanting to be first rather than safe. The experiment would have been of good intent. But without due consideration of the consequences for human health and society, it only undermines the ongoing researches of potential life-saving uses of genome editing in the future.

With great power lies great responsibility. Advancements in science and medicine made a significant impact on our lives. So, we must not neglect the accountability that goes with every single leap. The future is already bright; there is no need to rush. We will get there, one scientific leap at a time.