Smithsonian reports on the ‘CRISPR babies’ scandal in a way that is easy to understand for a general audience
This article investigates the genome editing of two twin girls born in China in November 2018 and the further research on the topic. A Chinese researcher used the CRISPR gene-editing mechanism to disable a gene in human embryos before twin girls were born. The target was CCR5, the gene that acts as a cell receptor for H.I.V. and allows the virus to enter into the cells.
The hopes of the researcher were to make the embryos immune to H.I.V completely; however, there are still many unknowns that come with removal of the CCR5 gene. The removal of the gene may even put the girls at risk in the future. By disabling the gene, the edit would act as though the gene had a certain mutation called delta 32—that is very rare, especially in China. Although this mutation helps provide resistance against HIV infection, this mutation could potentially be fatal to the twin girls, as those who contain this mutation to their CCR5 gene were found to have a higher chance of dying before age 76 than those who do not have the mutation.
No major criteria were violated in this news story; however, the story mentioned the studies used to extract data without a complete list of the sources cited. The news story portrays the research article nicely. As well, the original research article can be very easily located on the webpage. There are links directly to the research provided within the article. This makes the original research very accessible to the reader for further detail.
The news article does use language that can be understood by the general population and defines any specific scientific terms that the reader would need to understand. The article contains quotations from additional credible sources such as Epidemiologists. Statistics are clear, understandable and referenced.
The article introduces the worldwide distress surrounding the genome alteration that took place in two Chinese babies in November of 2018. It then touches on a new study from Berkeley that suggests (according to the author) there may be higher mortality rates in individuals with similar genetic mutations to those caused by the aforementioned controversial CRISPR alteration. Said author, Jason Daley, proposes that by replicating the effect of the CCR5 gene variant – delta 32 – which arises naturally in many Europeans, the ‘CRISPR babies’ could be more at risk than the general population for other illnesses.
Daley cites another article which suggests CCR5 can increase vulnerability to the flu and the West Nile virus. While this appears to be a correct interpretation of how the results of each study relate to each other, the title and subtitle of the article somewhat overstate the results.
The article is somewhat concise, and void of conflicting interests or bias. It directly links accessible forms of the journal and relevant, credible sources.
The content of the article correctly summarizes many key points from the study. The idea of the children being “more likely to die young” could be better represented by “more likely to contract or face negative consequences from certain illnesses.” Since many medical treatments have drawbacks like illness vulnerability, it is somewhat misleading and sensationalist to suggest this means their general mortality rates would be lower.
The article contains relatively little jargon that would be inaccessible to the general public. Supporting quotes from reputable sources are provided to assist with presentation and the paper itself is relatively easy to find by following links provided on the news article.
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