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What if a Chinese doctor could clean your genes of disease? – China’s latest business and technology news


The BBC reports on an experiment out of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China, that successfully “used a technique called base editing to correct a single error out of the three billion ‘letters’ of our genetic code.”

The experiment, published in Protein & Cell, eliminated the genetic origin of a disease called beta-thalassemia in lab-made human embryos, which were not implanted.

Of course, this kind of experimentation on real human genetic code is hotly controversial among scientists and the general public, especially in Western countries. Outside of China, researchers indicated to the BBC that such an experiment would first be done more extensively on animal genetics before moving to human genetic code. But China — and research done at Sun Yat-sen University, specifically — has pushed the line on this front before, as the Chinese public may be more willing to allow genetic modifications in humans and Chinese labs are more open to using CRISPR gene-editing technology on human genetic code.

The technology has not yet been applied to living humans, and scientists do not expect it to be used clinically any time soon, but all evidence points toward China being the first place where this would occur. So it’s worth all of us asking: If a Chinese doctor could clean your genes — or your children’s — of disease, would you let him?

In other science and technology news:

  • Bloomberg reports that “China’s love of meat is driving global antibiotic usage,” and that the quantity of antibiotics used on farms is linked to the emergence of foodborne bacteria.
  • SCMP reported on September 28 that “Chinese moon missions will be delayed” because of the failure of a rocket launch in July — but this is not the case for military operations in space. On September 29, SCMP said that China had launched three spy satellites to monitor electromagnetic waves, such as those generated by nuclear weapons tests.

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.