How to Make a CRISPR Baby

Many of the steps are the routine ones now used in IVF.  Start with the fertilized egg, grow the embryo until it consists of a number of  cells, but not so many that they aren't still all totipotent.  Treat with CRISPR-Cas9 incorporating the desired genetic changes.  Separate and again grow embryos to multicellular stage, check for embryos incorporating the desired changes, implant and wait 42 weeks.

At least two or three CRISPR babies have already been born.

The scientist responsible has been widely censured for unethical research, but it is unlikely to stop more of it.  His changes were in the gene for a cytokine called CCR5.  The change he made limits or eliminates the expression of the protein.  This gene is involved with inflammatory responses, but details are poorly understood, but one effect is widely known - those who inherit two copies of the so called delta32 variant are essentially immune to some types of HIV, since HIV invades white cells by latching on to CCR5.

There are a number of reasons why this is considered unethical, mostly because the technology is still too poorly controlled.  Also, the intervention is not fully therapeutic, since the subject girls still have some normal CCR5.  Producing babies immune to HIV is good, but the possible side effects of eliminating the usual CCR5 are not fully understood, and some of them are harmful.  Finally, we can hope that HIV will be eliminated in the 13-15 years before these girls are old enough to engage in the kind of behaviors that would cause them to catch HIV.

The steps needed beyond normal IVF are not terribly complicated.  There are probably many capable labs and IVF practices in every advanced country.  Add in parents desperate not to pass on Huntington's or hundreds of other devastating genetic diseases to their offspring.  It seems certain that the technology will be refined and widely adopted.  Once that happens, won't there become a huge demand, probably available only to the very wealthy, to produce designer babies with taller heights, slimmer waists, prettier faces, more privileged skin color, more athletic talent, and maybe higher SAT scores?

Some of these are less than five years away.  I doubt if any are more than twenty.


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