China’s CRISPR babies, whose genes had been edited before they were implanted, might have been turned into little Einsteins by accident. As a result of deleting the gene CCR5, making them HIV-resistant, the twin babies might have received enhanced cognition and memory as well.
Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.
“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections.
“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and “that is why it should not be done.”
It is unsure whether this process will actually make them smarter as they grow and develop or if there would be some other side effect as a result of the procedure. Still, the ethical issue stands. We don’t know whether manipulating the genes of embryos before implanting them would be beneficial or detrimental to the babies as they grow or if there would be unforeseen circumstances that would develop such as genetic malfunction or disorders, which is why the practice is banned. We can only wait and see what would happen to the CRISPR babies.
(Image credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem/Unsplash)