CRISPR Babys – Wissenschaft und Ethik auf dem Prüfstand

Am Montag, 26. November, wurde ein Artikel veröffentlicht, der behauptet dass chinesische Wissenschaftler in Shenzhen mit CRISPR das Genom von fortpflanzungsfähigen menschlichen Embryonen verändert haben, und die Geburt von Zwillingen mittels CRISPR-Technologie verändertem Erbgut stattgefunden hat. Die erste Version der Veröffentlichung war bruchstückhaft, und wurde anders als gängiger Standard in der Wissenschaft nicht im Rahmen eines wissenschaftlichen Papers nach abgeschlossenem Peer-Review-Verfahren publiziert. Der Mangel an Fakten legt nahe, dass innerhalb der nächsten Tage neue Details auftauchen können.

Dass mittels CRISPR-Technologie das Erbgut von Embryonen verändert werden könnte, ist seit längerer Zeit bekannt. Aufgrund von strengen Reglementierungen in Deutschland und Europa sind derartige Experimente hier strikt verboten. Dieser Blogeintrag gibt einen kurzen Einblick in die CRISPR-Technologie, und bietet Erklärungen und Gedankenansätze zu diesem Thema.

Ich möchte dabei vor allem drei Punkte vermitteln. Der erste Punkt ist, dass CRISPR-Forschung an menschlichen Zellen starke Regulierungen erfordert, damit in der Gesellschaft in Bezug auf CRISPR-Technologie, die in der biomedizinischen Forschung ja durchaus auch Chancen eröffnet, Vertrauen aufgebaut werden kann. Der zweite Punkte ist, dass diese unangemessene Studie unethisch ist, und nach europäischen Maßstäben illegal. Drittens halte ich diese Studie für schlecht durchdacht. Grundlegende Standards einer wissenschaftlichen Arbeit wurden nicht erfüllt.

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Les bébés-CRISPR – commentaire scientifique et éthique

Le lundi 26 novembre, des scientifiques chinois basés à Shenzhen ont annoncé avoir modifié des génomes d’embryons humains dans le but d’assister la reproduction. Le rapport initial est fragmentaire, et n’a pas été soumis au processus scientifique normal, au cours duquel tout article publié est normalement accompagné de toutes les données disponibles et est évalué par des pairs. En l’absence de faits concrets, il est probable que plus de détails seront révélés au cours des prochains jours.

La possibilité de modifier le génome d’un embryon est connue depuis longtemps, mais des réglementations strictes dans les pays Européens ont coupé court de telles expériences scientifiques en Europe. Ce billet de blog présent un court historique de la technologie CRISPR et quelques réflexions pour aider les journalistes et le grand public à mieux comprendre ce sujet.

Il y a trois points principaux que je souhaite transmettre. Tout d’abord, ce type de science a besoin d’une régulation stricte, en laquelle la société peut avoir confiance. Deuxièmement, je crois que c’était une étude déplacée qui est presque certainement contraire à l’éthique dans un cadre européen. Finalement, les détails de cette étude ont été mal conçus et ne respectent pas les normes de la rigueur scientifique.

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12th genome of Christmas: The platypus

In 1799 George Shaw, the head of the Natural History Museum in London, received a bizarre pelt from a Captain in Australia: a duck bill attached to what felt like mole skin. Shaw examined the specimen and wrote up a description of it in a scientific journal,  but he couldn’t help confessing that it was “impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practised some arts of deception in its structure.” Hoaxes were rife at the time, with Chinese traders stitching together parts of different animals – part bird, part mammal – to make artful concoctions that would trick European visitors. Georgian London was becoming rather skeptical of these increasingly fantastical pieces of taxidermy.

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10th genome of Christmas: The laboratory mouse

After human, the most studied animal, by a long margin, is mouse. Or, more strictly, the laboratory mouse, which is a rather curious creation of the last 200 years of breeding and science.

Laboratory mice originate mainly from circus mice and pet “fancy” mice kept by wealthy American and European ladies in the 18th century. Many of these mice had their roots in Japan and China, where their ancestors would have been kept by rich households. Unsurprisingly, the selection of which mice to breed over the centuries came down to habituation to humans and coat colour rather than scientific principles.

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9th genome of Christmas: Medaka and friends

My ninth genome of Christmas is a bit of an indulgence: the gentlemanly, diminutive Medaka fish, or Japanese rice paddy fish.

When Mendel’s laws were rediscovered in the 1900s, many scientists turned to local species they could keep easily to explore this brave, new world of genetics. In America, Thomas Hunt chose the fruit fly. Scientists in Germany explored the guppy and Ginuea pigs. In England, crop plants were the focus of early genetics. In Japan, researchers turned to the tiny Medaka fish, a common addition to many of the ornamental ponds maintained in Japanese gardens.

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Cyanobacteria: the greatest chemists in the world

You might think that the best chemists on earth are humans, living perhaps in Cambridge, Heidelberg, Paris, Tokyo or Shenzhen, beavering away in laboratories filled with glassware, extraction hoods and other human-made things. But then you would be discounting a multitude of bacteria that have cracked all sorts of chemistry problems over the course of their long evolution, and that still harbour secrets about how they manipulate molecules. One inventive clade of bacteria, the cyanobacteria, quite literally changed the world, and built the foundations of modern life.

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6th genome of Christmas: the deadly Plasmodium… plant?

If humans have an arch enemy, it might well be the tiny, blood-borne parasite Plasmodium falciparum. This nasty beast causes most of the malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and, together with its cousins, in many tropical zones throughout the world. It kills huge numbers of children every year, and constantly cycles through the bloodstreams of its many survivors. It has been with us since our explosive migration out of east Africa, and in fact many genetic diseases (including sickle-cell aneamia and thalassemias) are tolerated by human populations because they confer an advantage against this nasty parasite.

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5th genome of Christmas: The Fly

The humble fruit fly – Drosophila melanogaster, to be specific – has played a central role in the history of genetics and molecular biology and continues to be important in research.

Championed by the legendary Thomas Morgan at the start of the 20th Century, Drosophila provided a practical foundation for genetics – long before the discovery of DNA as vehicle for passing down heritable information through generations. Morgan and colleagues developed the concepts of ‘gene’ and ‘linkage’, and so we have ‘Morgans’ (and more commonly, centi-Morgans, cM) as the basic units of genetic maps.

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3rd genome of Christmas: the Denisovan little finger

In the early 90s Svante Paabo, a charismatic, energetic innovator, made a bold proposal: that to study human origins one would do well to sequence the DNA of ancient hominids, in particular those species which had gone extinct. After all, DNA could be detected in their bones, provided they were not too old and kept dry and cold.

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