Meeting August 9, 2017

Genes and Society in the news:

  • The Atlantic: A kerfuffle about diversity in the Roman empire. – This article describes a debate about whether a video cartoon, showing a mixed racial family, is accurate. It emphasizes the difficulty of using genetic data to answer this type of question.
  • The Washington Post: “Who was she? ADNA test only opened new mysteries” –  an article that explores the unexpected results that can occur when people send their DNA off for ancestry testing. The article uses the trem “recreational genomics” to describe the popularity of ancestry tests.
  • The Washington Post: “Mitochondrial transfer doctor gets FDA letter” A Dr. John Zhang was warned to stop marketing a “cure” for diseases transmitted through mitochondrial DNA. The type of manipulation he was advertising is against the law in the USA but he was shipping embryos to Mexico for the manipulations. Not allowed said the FDA. This note certainly emphasizes the international problem in attempts to regulate genome editing.
  • NPR: When ‘Where Are You From?’ Takes You Someplace Unexpected
  • July 30, 2017 article in The Forward by Ari Feldman asking – Can 23 and me tell us if Jews are a race?
  • Niu et al. Science. 2017. Inactivation of porcine endogenous retrovirus in pigs using CRISPR-Cas9. It describes gene editing in pigs to remove retroviruses in the genome. The basic claim is that removal of these potential infectious agents may facilitate the use of pig organs in humans.

Discussion Points on human germ line editing in embryos

  • This work was allowable as research – but does it make any sense in solving an important need? Certainly similar results could be obtained with pre-implantation genetic testing of embryos. Is this even a “disease” that needs a cure in this way. Is there really a market for this type of gene editing. Shelly brought up a major concern about whether the ability to pay for such manipulations would allow people with the needed funds to allow their offspring a special biological fate. What would happen if we had single-payer insurance. This brought up the question of whether “in vitro fertilization” for fertility problems is currently covered by third party insurance. Lisa is going to investigate this further.
  • We were struck that in the statements from scientists about this article there seems to be a rather sudden acceptance that many human characteristics involve many genes that each have a limited effect and may not do much to explain characteristic. Is this a change to accept what we have been saying about genes and behavior or is it brought up now to reassure the public again that we really don’t have to worry about the questions of “human enhancement”.
  • We had some discussion about particular possibilities for enhancement including new results that show that knock-outs in a single gene can lead to very low LDL levels.
  • Off target effects. We had limited discussion of this – more study of the paper and discussion is probably needed to really understand this issue. Do we want to spend our time doing this?


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