Russian biologist still plans to edit human genome

Denis Rebrikov / RFE/RL

Russian biologist Denis Rebrikov has confirmed to Nature that he is preparing to edit the genetic code of human eggs to eliminate a gene causing degrees of deafness. The news earlier in the year that Rebrikov was planning to alter the human genome had caused a sensation in the scientific community.

It turns out that the biologist’s short-term plans are more modest. He wants to experiment on eggs without the deaf gene to understand how complications might arise from “off-target” mutations and not to create genome-edited babies. He has consistently vowed to follow all the protocols required by the Russian government.

The journal Nature has been following Rebrikov’s experiments closely and seems to be in regular email contact with him.

However, his long-term plans do not seem to have changed. Whenever regulators permit him to do so, he will implant gene-edited embryos into a womb.

Nature says that many scientists are unhappy with Rebrikov’s haste:

Some scientists and ethicists also call into question the benefits of this procedure because hearing loss is not a fatal condition. “The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm,” says Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley …

Robin Lovell-Badge, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London and a member of the WHO committee, says that Rebrikov should wait until a clear framework has been agreed on, and that this will take time. “This is not a simple matter, and it is ridiculous to think that we can come up with global solutions to regulation in a very complex scientific and potentially clinical area in a few months.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge


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