In November 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced that he had used a powerful gene editing tool known as CRISPR to “genetically modify” two babies. Dr Jiankui, alongside his team, removed a gene known as CCR5 to make the newborns resistant to HIV, smallpox and cholera. The news sparked a global outcry, with many questioning the moral and ethical decisions behind the experiment.
Now the scientific community has claimed the two youngsters, who are twins, could develop enhanced brains.
They say recent research on mice showed that, while the gene blocks the development of AIDS, it also made them more intelligent than their peers.
Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, told the MIT Technology Review last week: “The answer is likely yes, it will affect their brains.
“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on the cognitive function in the twins.
“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.”
Dr Silva went on to reveal that, while research on mice has given scientists a better idea of the impact, it is still inconclusive.
He continued: “The work on mice demonstrates the answer may be yes – but mice are not people.
“We simply don’t know what the consequences will be in mucking around with humans.
“We are not ready for it yet.”
Disgraced scientist Dr Jiankui, who has been dubbed “China’s Dr Frankenstein”, was sacked from his role at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen following the experiment.
He was reportedly held under house arrest at the university while he was investigated.
Authorities said he had organised a team to “intentionally avoid surveillance and use technology with uncertain safety and effectiveness” to pursue his experiment.
They also accused him of doing so “in pursuit of personal fame and fortune”.
He reportedly forged ethical review papers in the process of his experiment, which involved recruiting eight couples, resulting in two pregnancies.