A new study shows that a controversial experiment on the editing of genes, with the aims to make children immune to HIV, could also improve their ability to learn and form memories. Genetically altered the brains of two girls born in China last year, could change for the better, improving cognitive ability and memory, say scientists. Gemini — which is called Lulu and Nana appeared with modified genes, thanks to the efforts of Chinese scientists and tool CRISPR.
Genetically modified twins from China
The study showed that the same change through which passed the DNA girls, deletion of the gene CCR5 makes the mice smarter, but also improves the ability of the human brain recover after a stroke, and can also be associated with higher performance in school.
“The answer is — Yes, it’s probably affected their brains,” says Alcino George. Silva, a neuroscientist at the University of California in Los Angeles. His lab discovered the major role of the gene CCR5 in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections.
“The simplest interpretation is that these mutations will affect cognitive function in twins,” says Silva. He also believes that the exact impact on cognitive functions of girls it is impossible to predict and “not worth trying”.
The team from China under the leadership of Czankra Hye from South science and technology University in Shenzhen said that used CRISPR to remove CCR5 from human embryos, some of which were later used for conception. HIV needs the CCR5 gene to sneak in human blood cells.
This experiment was widely condemned as irresponsible, and he is currently behind bars in China, and his case is being investigated. News about the first genetically edited the children also gave rise to rumors that the CRISPR technology someday could be used to create a Superintelligent people, possibly in the biotech race between the U.S. and China.
There is no evidence that he actually intended to change the intelligence of twins. MIT Technology Review contacted scientists researching the impact of CCR5 on cognition, and they say that Chinese scientist have not contacted them in hopes of getting scientific advice or support — as it was with other groups of scientists.
“As far as I know, he asked nothing,” said Miou Zhou, Professor, Western University of health Sciences in California.
Although Heh never consulted a brain scientist, Chinese scientist undoubtedly knew about the relationship of CCR5 and cognitive abilities. What Zhou and Silva in 2016 showed this relationship, finding that deleting the gene in mice significantly improved their memory. The team reviewed more than 140 different genetic changes to see which made the mice smarter.
Silva said that due to his studies he met occasionally with individuals in Silicon valley and wherever, in his opinion, was an unhealthy interest in designer babies with enhanced brain. That’s why, when the birth of twins has become public domain on 25 November, Silva said that immediately interested, it was the attempt to produce such a change. “I suddenly realized — my God, it’s happening seriously. My reaction was disgust and deep sadness”.
During the meeting, scientists from the field of gene editing, which took place two days later in Hong Kong, he admitted that already knew about all those possible implications for brain research, University of California at Los Angeles. “I saw this work, it needs more independent verification,” he replied after question about her. “I am against the use of editing of the genome to improve”.
Whatever the true purpose of He, continue to receive evidence that CCR5 plays an important role in the brain. Today, for example, Silva and a large group of us-Israeli scientists claim that they have obtained new evidence that CCR5 acts as a suppressor of memories and synaptic connections.
According to their new study published in the journal Cell, people with the natural CCR5 deficiency recover from strokes faster. Moreover, those that does not have at least one copy of this gene do better in school, that is, all affect the everyday intelligence.
“We first reported about the function of CCR5 in the human brain and about the increased level of academic achievement,” says UCLA biologist Thomas Carmichael, leader of the study. He calls the relationship with success in education “tantalizing”, but says that this requires further study.
For discoveries on the subject of CCR5 has already followed the testing of drugs on patients with stroke and HIV, who sometimes suffer from memory problems. In these studies, one of which is conducted at UCLA, people are given the drug against HIV — Maraviroc — CCR5 which is chemically blocks to see no improvement in their cognitive abilities.
Silva said that there is a big difference between trying to adjust the deficit in these patients and attempt to improve. “Cognitive problems is one of the pressing problems of medicine. The necessary preparations, but it’s another thing to take normal people and change their DNA or the chemistry to improve. We just don’t know enough to do it. Nature observes a very good balance.”
Just because we change ordinary intelligence, does not mean that we can’t. Silva says that genetic manipulation has created “smart mice” and showed that it is not only possible, but that the changes in gene CCR5 plays a big role in this.
“Is it possible that sometime in the future we will be able to increase the average IQ of the population? I wouldn’t be a scientist if I said “no”. Work in mice shows that the answer is an obvious Yes. But mice aren’t people. We just don’t know what the consequences would be. We are not ready yet”.
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