Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by Meenakshi Prabhune

Hello fellow Schmoozers,

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and are already preparing for Christmas. If you are looking for a scientific gift, let me inform you that Foldscope (the paper microscope) is available on holiday sale. Do consider donating the gift of curiosity to your loved ones or schools.

In the scientific realm, there has been an important news that everyone might have heard in the past two weeks. A researcher in China claims to have edited genes of two babies. I have heard several versions from people last week, so let me clarify the real news for everyone.

“Two beautiful little Chinese girls, Lulu and Nana, came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago,” He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, announced in a You tube video last week. He said that he took sperm from an HIV positive father and egg from HIV negative mother, fertilized them in the lab (similar to IVF procedure that couples who cannot have kids naturally undergo). The main difference here was that he edited a gene in the embryos that would make the babies immune to HIV using the CRISPR gene editing technology. He implanted these embryos in the mother, and after a full-term pregnancy, we have what would be the world’s first gene-edited babies.

The news took the scientific community by surprise (rather shock), as the researcher had not discussed his experiments with other scientists. Even his university did not know about his work. Researchers have criticized his decision to go ahead with such an important experiment without knowing possible side effects of gene editing technology in humans (even if the girls turn out to be HIV immune), as well as the lack of transparency in his research.

The scientific community is now investigating the truth of his claims, and even more importantly, they are discussing how rules regarding gene editing in humans should be enforced. It is encouraging for the public to see that scientists are treating this incident seriously and planning how to monitor research carefully to avoid such a breach in the future.

Holiday season may be around, but we are not short of science events. Here are my picks for the upcoming week.

Last, but not the least, Bay Area Skeptics is hosting a Bad Ad Hoc Hypothesis program on December 13, 2018, where YOU could be the presenter. Submit the title of your talk (examples of science BAH Fests can be found on YouTube) & an abstract to, along with your name and contact information. Don’t forget: deadline for your chance to shine is Monday, December 3 Wednesday, December 5.

Have a curious week ahead.
Science writer and journalist



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