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Genetically modified twins may have been altered in a way that improves memory and cognition

Published on 22/02/19 at 10:00am
Image Credit: The He Lab https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:He_Jiankui.jpg

The twins who were genetically modified using the gene editing tool CRISPR may have been changed in a way that could enhance their memory and cognition.

The two girls, Lulu and Nana, were reported to have had their genes modified in order to prevent them from contracting HIV before they were born.

However research shows that the alteration introduced into the girls DNA, the deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice more intelligent but also improves human’s ability to recover from a stroke. The gene has also been linked to greater success in school.

“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins.”

The team of scientists, led by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed they had used CRISPR to delete CCR5 from human embryos in order to prevent them from contractnig HIV. HIV requires the CCR5 gene in order to enter human blood cells.

While there is no evidence that He set out with the aim of enhancing the twin’s intelligence, the scientist was almost certainly aware of CCR5’s role in memory and cognition. The link was first established in 2016 by Silva and Miou Zhou, a professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California.

“Could it be conceivable that at one point in the future we could increase the average IQ of the population? I would not be a scientist if I said no. The work in mice demonstrates the answer may be yes,” Silva said. “But mice are not people. We simply don’t know what the consequences will be in mucking around. We are not ready for it yet."

Louis Goss

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