THE MUTANT PROJECT-a book review

At the same time, some of the more entrepreneurial see the potential for using genetic modification to selectively breed desirable and profitable human traits-high IQ, increased muscle mass, or designer skin color, and enhanced fertility, including choosing the gender of babies.

THE MUTANT PROJECT

Inside the global race to genetically modify humans

By Eben Kirksey

If this were the title of a fiction book, you might expect the main characters to be brilliant but misguided scientists, funded by biotech start-ups who see potential for massive profits by developing methods to manipulate human DNA. The applications of such technology for the treatment of genetic diseases, cancers, and viral infections could be worth billions of dollars.

At the same time, some of the more entrepreneurial see the potential for using genetic modification to selectively breed desirable and profitable human traits-high IQ, increased muscle mass, or designer skin color, and enhanced fertility, including choosing the gender of babies.

You would be right except The Mutant Project is not fiction; it is based on facts, meticulously researched by Eben Kirksey, Ph.D. In this book, Dr. Kirksey chronicles his travels around the world as he learned about genetic modification using CRISPR by interviewing multiple scientists and investors who were involved in the first genetically edited babies born in 2018.

The Mutant Timeline

One does not need a graduate degree in genetics to understand this book, although I am sure it would help. But here are some basic facts that introduce the book.

1818-Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the world’s first science fiction book, about a young researcher fwho produces a creature with superhuman powers

1901-Hugo de Vries writes The Mutation Theory, about foundational ideas about genetic variation

1953- Watson and Crick are credited with discovering the DNA’s double helix structure

graphic depiction of DNA- the double helix

1978- Louise Brown is born, the world’s first “test-tube” baby

1987-CRISPR is discovered

a drawing representing CRISPR
CRISPR-Cas9 is a customizable tool that lets scientists cut and insert small pieces of DNA at precise areas along a DNA strand. This lets scientists study our genes in a specific, targeted way. Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH

2000-President Bill Clinton reveals preliminary findings from the Human Genome Project

2016-the first CRISPR clinical trial in the United States secures government approval

2016-The China National GeneBank opens, the goal is to collect DNA from every human on earth

CRISPR

CRISPR, “clustered interspaced short palindromic repeats” was discovered in bacteria in 1987, its purpose initially unknown. By 2012 scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier demonstrated how to modify human DNA with CRISPR. It is an enzyme that can “generate mutants by chopping up DNA.”

CRISPR/CAS9 systems allow scientists to make targeted changes to an organism's DNA
CRISPR/CAS9 systems allow scientists to make targeted changes to an organism’s DNA This image is excerpted from a U.S. GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-478SP

Even though Dr. Kirksey is reporting as a journalist, he makes it clear that he agrees with those who feel this technology must be approached cautiously, as there is a clear risk that “biotech companies may put profits ahead of patients.”

The chief protagonist of this saga is Dr. Jiankui He of China, the physician scientist responsible for modifying two embryos, creating the first edited babies in the world, twin girls born in China in October 2018. He believed he has assured his place in history by using CRISPR to make these embryos resistant to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

Such a technique could change the world, potentially making all humans resistant to this infectious disease which is deadly without treatment. How Dr. He went from “powerful scientific entrepreneur to pariah” within a few short years is both riveting and disappointing.

This story moves at a rapid pace as the author travelled around the world attending lectures and interviewing multiple people in varied locations; I suggest not laying the book aside once you start, as I found it easy to get lost. A background in basic biology is helpful but not necessary to enjoy this book, since the ethical and moral issues it raises go beyond the realm of science.

A nice feature of the book-it is dedicated to the twin girls, Lulu and Nana, who live in China with their parents and are reported to be healthy.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for a digital galley copy in exchange for my honest review.

other books by Dr. Kirksey

Freedom in Entangled Worlds

The Multispecies Salon

Emergent Ecologies

And if you enjoy video

Human Nature-documentary movie

Human Nature is a provocative exploration of CRISPR’s far-reaching implications, through the families it’s affecting, and the bioengineers who are testing its limits. How will this new power change our relationship with nature? What will it mean for human evolution? To answer these questions we must look back billions of years and peer into an uncertain future.

Unnatural Selection-documentary television series

From eradicating disease to selecting a child’s traits, gene editing gives humans the chance to hack biology. Meet the real people behind the science.

available on Netflix

exploring the HEART of health and genetics

I hope you will consider reading Dr. Kirksey’s book and watching some of the videos. The medical sciences are finding more and more uses for genetics, for example the mRNA vaccines developed to prevent COVID-19 infection. As Dr. Kirksey described in the book, there are significant ethical implications that bear watching.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr. Aletha

Stay informed about COVID-19, variants, and vaccine guidelines

CDC now expands vaccine recommendations to about 28 million children in the United States in this age group and allows providers to begin vaccinating them as soon as possible.

This information is current as of the publication date; it is general medical information that helps doctors and patients make decisions about what is right for them. Medical recommendations and practice changes as we learn new things. Discuss with your physician or appropriate healthcare provider .

The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19. Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the potential for immune evasion.

updated November 29,2021

Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot

You may choose which COVID-19 vaccine you receive as a booster shot. Some people may prefer the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mix and match dosing for booster shots. 

Studies show after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus and the ability to prevent infection with variants may decrease over time.

update-November 2, 2021

Today, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that children 5 to 11 years old be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine. 

CDC now expands vaccine recommendations to about 28 million children in the United States in this age group and allows providers to begin vaccinating them as soon as possible.

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.” 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky , CDC Director

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

Updated Oct. 27, 2021 by the CDC

As you’ve learned by now, nothing is ever final when it come to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, although we hope and pray someday it will. For now there is another new recommendation for receiving a “booster dose” of the COVID vaccines; now boosters are approved for all medically eligible recipients who received any one of the 3 approved vaccines.

IF YOU RECEIVED
Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna


You are eligible for a booster if you are:

When to get a booster:
At least 6 months after your second shot

Which booster should you get?
Any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States

IF YOU RECEIVED
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen


You are eligible for a booster if you are:
18 years or older

When to get a booster:
At least 2 months after your shot

Which booster should you get?
Any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States

You may choose which COVID-19 vaccine you receive as a booster shot.

Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mix and match dosing for booster shots.

mRNA vaccines vs traditional vaccines work differently
RNA Vaccines vs Traditional Vaccines

Previous COVID-19 updates

Breaking news – Vaccination in pregnancy

August 11, 2021
  • COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future.
  • Evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy has been growing. These data suggest that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.
  • There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.

Breaking news-COVID-19 Vaccines for Moderately to Severely Immunocompromised People

August 13, 2021

CDC now recommends that people whose immune systems are compromised moderately to severely should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2 doses. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic. Read CDC’s statement.

%d bloggers like this: