Saturday , October 1 2022

Lluís Montoliu: "They have created a new line of people" | science


Biologist Lluís Montoliu, from the National Biotechnology Center, in Madrid. In video, genetically modified children in China: hoax or science?

Lluis Montoliu had listened to the rumors for months that there were already genetically modified children in China. Today, this 55-year-old Barcelona's biologist felt "freezing" when he saw the video where scientist He Jiankui announced "with a messianic tone" the birth of two twin sisters with an inactivated gene to make them immune to viral infection. AIDS. Montoliu, researcher at the National Biotechnology Center and founding president of the International Society of Transgenic Technologies, uses CRISPR technology to create mice with rare diseases similar to humans, such as albinism. In his view, there are still too many unknown risks to use the human embryo tool for therapeutic purposes. For China, it is also not an application to treat a hereditary disease. The embryos were healthy. It regrets Montoliu, an alleged attempt to genetic improvement of the human species.

Question. What do you think about He Jiankui's message?

Response. We must keep skepticism and assume we still do not know what they're saying to us really happened. We have already eaten many news from China that we must correct or withdraw. More than a scientific communication, it seems like an advertisement for some of the researchers in the company, who have businesses and therefore have interests in this regard. Legitimate, but interested after all. This Tuesday begins a world congress of genetic publishing in Hong Kong. What better sound card. He has achieved a major advertising campaign and now he will have huge purchases of couples who will request this genetic editing process.

"A Pandora's box has been opened, it's a huge irresponsibility"

P. Is it ethical?

R. A Pandora box has been opened. There is a huge immortality. It's not a problem to cure. It's a genetic improvement. The next step is a total eugenic. They will tell the parents: "What do you want?" The ban has been opened, which is what we did not want to happen, but it has happened where we knew it would happen: in China. It must be clearly stated that this experiment is illegal in our country and it is also illegal in many other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where genetic editing of embryos in research is possible but not their implementation. [en una madre].

P. What are the girls going to be?

R. The most common is that they are mosaic girls, with different genetic codes in their cells. It is absolutely irresponsible. After 20 or 30 years, they can develop an autoimmune disease, where their organisms defend their own cells. And the changes in these girls will be passed on to their children. The bioethical effect exceeds the girls. Chinese scientists have strictly created a new line of people. The message you send is terrible. There will be more people who want to disable this gene for their children. The authors have crossed two red lines: A genetically engineered human embryo has been implanted and gestated. And in addition, the application is genetic improvement, it is not therapeutic.

"The next step is total eugenics, they will tell the parents: what do you want?"

P. Is there any way to avoid these experiments in humans?

R. This year we launched the Association for Responsible Research and Innovation in Genetic Editing (ARRIGE, for its acronym in English). We have joined Unesco. One of our proposals is to promote international governance, but we are aware that it is very difficult. There are few treaties of global importance, regardless of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps it is time to make an international convention to regulate the genetic edition. What seems to be happening in China would require access to international law.

P. What could be wrong in China?

R. The inactivation of a gene through genetic editing, through CRISPR, is the easiest application of all. Despite this, one of the twin sisters seems to have the two copies of the gene disabled, while the other sister only has one of the two copies disabled, the researcher admits. I'm surprised that I recognize it without a problem. This shows its inability to control the system. I ask this researcher to tell us exactly what he did and how to assess the impact of the experiment.

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