MAR 01, 2019 4:47 PM PST

Did the Human CRISPR Experiment Affect the Subjects' Brains?

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

In a highly controversial experiment conducted without oversight or input from peers, researcher He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China led a team that modified the genomes of human embryos with the CRISPR/Cas9 editing tool. That experiment ended with the birth of twins with presumably modified genomes.

The supposed point of the genomic modification was to shield the twins from potential future exposure to HIV. To do so, the CCR5 gene was altered. That gene allows HIV to invade human blood cells. But like many genes, it has multiple functions depending on the tissue in which it is expressed.

In the case of CCR5, it also appears to have an important role in the brain. New research has indicated that the modification supposedly made to the twin babies’ CCR5 genes makes mice smarter. The gene is also connected to memory and the formation of new connections in the brain. Reduction of the gene results in better recovery in the brain after a stroke has occurred. 

Reporting in Cell, scientists have also determined that people who lack at least one copy of the CCR5 gene attend school longer. “We are the first to report a function of CCR5 in the human brain, and the first to report a higher level of education,” said UCLA biologist S. Thomas Carmichael, who led the new study. 

Researcher Alcino J. Silva is a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was a part of the CCR5 research reported in Cell. He talked to MIT about the CCR5 CRISPR experiments performed on the twins in China. “The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” he told MIT Technology Review.

“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” said Silva. The exact effect on cognition in these twins cannot be predicted, which “is why it should not be done.” 

Related: Researcher Claims to Have Genetically Engineered Human Babies

He Jiankui has claimed to be opposed to using gene modification for enhancing function, but it seems impossible to know his true intentions considering that he conducted his research outside of all accepted ethical boundaries. 

Sources: MIT Technology Review, Cell

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 05, 2020
Immunology
Can't Shed Those Extra Pounds? An Inflammatory Gene Could Be to Blame.
OCT 05, 2020
Can't Shed Those Extra Pounds? An Inflammatory Gene Could Be to Blame.
  Australian scientists have zeroed in on a gene linked to an increased obesity risk: a regulator of inflammation c ...
OCT 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
OCT 19, 2020
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
There are over two billion people around the world that don't get the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins in ...
NOV 12, 2020
Cardiology
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
NOV 12, 2020
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Cardiovascular disease is something that, in most cases, is within our ability to control. A healthy diet and active lif ...
NOV 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
NOV 17, 2020
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
A large family with some members that have a rare brain disorder has helped scientists learn more about both brain devel ...
NOV 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Different View of Chromosomes
NOV 19, 2020
A Different View of Chromosomes
Many of us are familiar with typical diagrams of a chromosome, which is usually drawn like a stubby X. While that pictur ...
NOV 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
What is ChIP-Seq and Is It Quantitative After All?
NOV 22, 2020
What is ChIP-Seq and Is It Quantitative After All?
ChIP-Seq is a tool for analyzing the interactions between DNA and the proteins that bind to it, which influences gene ac ...
Loading Comments...