. . .
“We want Julius to grow up to be as clever as you. So we must sing to him his numbers and letters whenever possible.”
from Julius, Baby of the World
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 1990
Back when I was having my babies, the world seemed simpler. Most tiny clothes for newborns were yellow or green. Why would you outfit a nursery in pink only to discover nine months later, that it should have been done up in blue? Now it’s okay for boys to have pink and girls to have blue, sorta. Anyway we’re moving in that direction, I think. But all those years ago, it was pretty chancy to buy blue or pink before the baby arrived.
Then sonograms became routine and took the guesswork out of many aspects of pregnancy. But really, maybe we’ll get back to how our society may (or may not) have discovered a sliding gender scale another time.
Right now, I’m trying to sort out my feelings about He Jiankui’s bombshell announcement that he successfully helped make the first gene-edited baby.
I learned about DNA in high school. Francis Crick and James Watson based their discovery of the double helix on work done by Rosalind Franklin, one of their colleagues whose x-ray images revealed the shape of the helix. And in 1962, Crick and Watson along with Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how DNA transfers information from cell to cell. And what of Rosalind Franklin and her work? Well, she was a woman in a man’s world in the 1950s.
In 1990, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy joined with the international community to identify the estimated 30,000 genes in human DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and to figure out the sequences of their chemical bases. They wanted a map of the complete set of DNA in the human body. This concerted, public effort was the Human Genome Project.
In April 2003, researchers celebrated their successful completion, under budget and more than two years ahead of schedule. According to the NIH, the information is used to treat, cure, or even prevent diseases and afflictions. Genes for as many as 1,800 diseases have been discovered so far. https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45
Last Tuesday, the day before it began, (11/27/18) He Jiankui revealed the results of his experiment to the organizers of The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing.
One girl in a set of twin girls, He said, were born last month with the ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus. To me, just identifying, locating, and working on something so impossibly small and delicate is beyond amazing.
The announcement from China of a genetically modified baby rocked, shocked, stupefied, stunned, and astonished the medical and scientific communities.
The purpose of the Summit was to discuss everything from the physiological and scientific workings of genes to the ethics and morality of what it means to be human.
While on the surface He's experiment might seem like a good idea, a step forward in the eradication of a deadly disease, what is still unknown is what happens to that gene and the ones communicating with it during its lifespan? No one knows. For now, I’m content to take control of my health through exercise and nutritious food (when I can identify it as such). And trust the scientists will figure out the ethics. I’m pretty ecstatic that they all were mostly horrified.
The first time I saw each of my baby daughters, I looked into their eyes for a long moment. I wished them happiness, good health, and the determination to reach their potentials. I also did not want them to be fat, but that wish started way before they were born.
Just as Julius’s parents nurture him to help him reach his best self, Mother Nature is also at work in determining how we all turn out. I know that. AIDS is a deadly disease, I know that, too. In a contest of wills, though, human against Nature, it is usually (maybe even necessarily) Mother Nature that wins.
-—stay curious! (and lean in)