BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Embryo Gene Editing can Ensure Offspring Do Not Inherit a Deafness Gene!

Denis Rebrikov, A scientist in Russia has done research regarding ways in which he can edit the genome sequence of an embryo in order to prevent the fetus from developing certain gene mutations, specifically in this case a hearing problem or possible complete deafness. His plans are very controversial to some, who believe the possible risks of very harmful mutations to DNA that would be passed onto direct and future offspring, outweigh the possible benefits. However, some people find this scientific possibility to be worth the risk, if it means not passing a potentially very harmful gene down to offspring. If these methods are done correctly, it should alter the genome sequence in the embryo so that future offspring off that embryo will not inherit the negative mutation.

One couple shared their story in detail, in which both parties have a hearing deficiency, the man with partial deafness, and the woman completely deaf. Their biggest hope is to have children who will not inherit hearing issues, because of the apparent challenges they have had to face themselves because of them. They would be the first couple to perform this gene editing on an IVF embryo, so they obviously have some reservations. One of those being publicity, but more importantly the potential risks of using the CRISPR genome editor. They already have a daughter with hearing loss, but they never chose to test her genes for mutations, nor did they get her a cochlear implant to aid her hearing, because of the potential risks of that. When they finally tested her genes, they learned that she had the same common hearing loss mutation called 35delG in both her copies of a gene called GJB2. The parents then tested themselves, realizing they were both 35delG homozygous, meaning their daughter’s mutations were not unique to her, they had been inherited.

If either the mother or father had a normal copy of the GJB2 gene, a fertility clinic could have more easily created embryos by IVF and tested a few cells in each one to select a heterozygote–with normal hearing–to implant. At this stage, Denis Rebrikov informed them that CRISPR genome editing would be their only option. However, the process presents possibly deal breaking risks, such as mosaicism, in which a gene edit might fail to fix the deafness mutation, which could create other possible dangerous mutations like genetic disorders or cancer. The couple has not decided to go through with the editing just yet, but it is something they are open to in the future as more possible new research or test subjects become available.

Explaining the CRISPR Method: “The CRISPR-Cas9 system works similarly in the lab. Researchers create a small piece of RNA with a short “guide” sequence that attaches (binds) to a specific target sequence of DNA in a genome. The RNA also binds to the Cas9 enzyme. The modified RNA is used to recognize the DNA sequence, and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA at the targeted location… Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell’s own DNA repair machinery to add or delete pieces of genetic material, or to make changes to the DNA by replacing an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence.” -US National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference

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Woman with a hearing aid 

If you had the opportunity to alter something in the gene’s of your baby’s embryo, would you? Under what circumstances would you consider this, and what risks might stop you from deciding to do it? Comment down below.

 

 

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14 Comments

  1. saadoplasm

    This is so crazy because just LAST NIGHT, my dad and I were talking about this one deaf couple that was expecting a baby, and the doctors said they could alter the baby’s genes so that it would not be deaf. However, the parents did not want the procedure. My dad said that the US government ended up filing a suit against the parents for blocking the procedure, claiming that it was putting the unborn child at harm. I’m not sure about all the details because this is just what my dad told me, but it made me think of GATTACA. Should we as a society strive for perfection, or do just be ourselves, the way we were born? How far can we go with science until it becomes an ethical problem. This is not the same couple that my dad and I were talking about perfection and how we approach genetic imperfections, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/mar/09/genetics.medicalresearch

  2. glovcose

    This post is really interesting and it really helps to show how advanced we have become. It is crazy that we are able to possibly prevent hearing loss in offspring. In this article I found it talks about how many people find gene editing to be unethical and there are also many safety concerns that go along with it. https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/policy-issues/Genome-Editing/ethical-concerns
    Some things that need to be taken into consideration about gene editing are safety, consent, and equity.

  3. actrevationenergy

    I think that it is really ground breaking that science has gotten to the point of being able to genetically modifying people to cure diseases. It also brings up the important philosophical question of whether or not people should be gene editing humans for perfection. While curing diseases is one thing, the real question is where does one draw the line on what is something to be “fixed” and what are not imperfections. In the wrong hands this technology could be quite dangerous. Here is an article on the ethical questions brought up when a Chinese scientist genetically modified babies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331330/

  4. andygen

    Wow! This is extremely interesting how we might be able to eliminate deafness in the world. The power to improve people’s quality of life through genetic modification is truly revolutionary, however I can definitely see the potential push-back due to the ethics behind it. While I personally believe that genetic modification in order to solve conditions such as deafness or birth defects is a great idea, a large part of the scientific community and general population see genetic modification as unethical and contradictory to human nature. As time progresses, I certainly believe that we should incorporate this groundbreaking technology into a normal standard of care. https://www.nature.com/articles/30639 I find it very interesting that certain genes can be targeted for modification once the trait and gene are proven to be linked.

  5. Ethanol

    This topic is awesome! With the excellent work of these scientists genetically predisposed diseases can be nearly completely prevented. It reminds me of the movie GATTACA where the world reached a point where the vast majority of children born were genetically engineered to be “perfect”. It begs the question will this. technology lead to great health improvements fr the masses of the world, or will it lead to widespread discrimination and the loss of “natural” fertilization and child birth such as in the movie? With all its undoubtably positive effects on our world this technology comes with a difficult to answer ethical dilemma. For some information on this dilemma see this article: https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/policy-issues/Genome-Editing/ethical-concerns

  6. tsiamine

    This is a very interesting post @rivisome!!! It is very interesting to explore the new and modern technologies that are being integrated into science and society. While CRISPR is an up and coming technology, I am sure some people find this scientific possibility to be risky and an opportunity – weather that be negative or positive – to alter the gene pool. There are many ethical and moral concerns that arise when people begin to alter DNA and pick certain genes. This poses the question of why our society believes certain genes and phenotypes are more superior than others. I found an article about the ethical issues on modern genetics: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124343/.

  7. michaelchondria

    This article interested me because it really shows how advanced our recent technology has become. Gene editing may soon become the future for couples willing to have babies in the future, and it will be interesting to see how much modification will be around for babies. I believe that if somehow presented, the couple should take advantage of the opportunity to fix their daughter’s mutations, even though it may not be 100% moral. Genetic modification is basically inevitable in the near future, and a chance to benefit their daughter’s life by editing her genes can definitely improve her overall life for the future. An article I found (https://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/fulltext/2020/02000/germline_gene_editing_for_deafness.1.aspx) noted that there is a future in genetic modification for babies being born deaf. Hopefully, genetic modification can be cleaned up in terms of its safety for other couples that may want to take the chance to change the genetic code in their child.

  8. liambilicalcord

    Awesome post! Not sure how credible of a source it is, but I recently watched the movie GATTICA, a great watch if you haven’t already, and it was all about creating the perfect child instead of natural conception. The research Rivisome wrote about is awesome in my opinion! It is great that doctors are able to prevent various diseases before birth, however, hopefully, it never escalates the way the movie does! (you’ll have to watch to find out!)

  9. tytybox

    This is a really interesting moral question, and the movie gattaca we just watched I think shows a great argument in this debate. CRISPR is something that is really intriguing, but I have no idea how it works, so here’s an article that talks about that. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-how-crispr-works

  10. tayega

    The editing of babies is a very slippery slope. It can help in amazing ways just as you have shown here. However it can lead to very unethical practices as in this article https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crispr-edited-babies-arrived-and-regulators-are-still-racing-to-catch-up/

    The problem here is that sometimes science can lead to very suspect practices. When it isn’t monitored very closely by people it can get out of hand. That is why we must always know what is being edited in these babies. The restrictions and the guidelines for all of the practices such as this must be laid out. If not a case such as this could happen when people don’t realize that there’s been malpractice happening. We also have to always make sure the family is right in line with what is happening.It makes you think about what’s gonna happen in the future with this level of gene editing.

  11. abbyogenesis

    Wow this post is so interesting! It truly shows how advance we are as a society were we are able to possibly prevent hearing loss to be passed down to offspring. Just like in any scientific advancement, testing and labs are necessary. So in order to truly know if Mr. Denis Rebrikov’s research is significant, it will have to be tested in order to know if it can truly help others. All drugs and devices that may help in one area always have side effects, it just depends on how grave that side effect is. I personally think this research is amazing and could help the 466 million people in the world who suffer from deafness. Many of whom are from low-income families. If hearing loss and deafness go un-researched it could cost $750 million worldwide according to this article https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss. Mr. Rebrikov’s research could be another solution!

  12. foodvacuolola

    Great post Rivisome! So fascinating that scientists have the ability to give us knowledge about how embryo gene editing can make sure that the deaf gene does not get passed down. Even though there is a risk, it could be very beneficial. In the article I found, it discusses the risk, the recessive deaf gene, and preserving deaf culture because deaf culture is a very positive culture for the people who are living in it (I watched a video in Psychology and it was a little girl discussing how she wanted to get an implant, but her parents didn’t want her to get it because they had such a wonderful community they lived in and enjoyed life the way they are).
    (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2208777-exclusive-five-couples-lined-up-for-crispr-babies-to-avoid-deafness/)

  13. Handroanthus

    This is a very well written blog. I like how you did not only write on Denis Rebrikov’s idea on editing the genome sequence of the embryo but you presented us with evidence on people that will use it like the couple you shared and how it will be their only option due to the fact that the daughter inherited the gene. I also liked how you explained to us readers that there are disadvantages to this CRISPR method, you even went the extra mile with explaining exactly what the CRISPR mile is and exactly how it works. I found a website that expands on the benefits and disadvantages of the CRISPR method https://www.sinobiological.com/crispr-cas9-pros-and-cons.html.

  14. devoxyribonucleicacid

    I believe this topic is very interesting, yet extremely controversial in some cases. This study reminds me of the movie GATTACA which we are currently watching in Biology class, where Vincent’s parents edited their embryo to get rid of any diseases or fatal conditions. However, once they were introduced this idea, they took advantage of the possibilities and used their resources to make him the “perfect human being” by adjusting his height, hair color, body structure, and so on. Personally, I would consider edited my baby’s embryo for the sole purpose of preventing fatal diseases and conditions. In an article I found on Oxford Academic, https://academic.oup.com/clinchem/article/64/3/486/5608793, Nicholas Katsanis writes about the benefits of gene editing and how this can be a solution to eliminate rare, genetic diseases. He believes that this process can be used as a solution to treating these conditions, and that we should be optimistic about this advancement.
    If we have created such advanced technology, I believe we should use it wisely and to our advantage to create a stronger human race. I support this method, if it is used for the sole purpose of eliminating diseases and fatal conditions. We would ultimately create a world where the number of fatal diseases would decrease and people are able to live to their full potential and live a healthy life.

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