Chinese CRISPR kids may have accidentally improved their intelligence.

New research shows that controversialAn gene editing experiment designed to make children immune to HIV could also improve their ability to learn and shape their memories. The brains of two genetically modified girls born in China last year could change for the better by improving their cognitive abilities and memory, scientists say. The twins — who were named Lulu and Nana — appeared with modified genes, thanks to the efforts of Chinese scientists and the CRISPR tool.

Genetically modified twins from China

The study found that the same change,through which the girls' DNA passed - removing the CCR5 gene - not only makes mice smarter, but also improves the ability of the human brain to recover from a stroke, and may also be associated with higher school performance.

"The answer will be - yes, it probably affected theirbrains, ”says Alcino J. Silva, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. His laboratory discovered the large role of the CCR5 gene in memory and the ability of the brain to form new connections.

"The simplest interpretation is thatthese mutations will affect the cognitive function of twins, ”says Silva. He also believes that the exact impact on the cognitive functions of girls is impossible to predict and “do not try”.

A team from China led by He Jiankuya fromThe Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said it applied CRISPR to remove CCR5 from human embryos, some of which were later used for conception. HIV needs the CCR5 gene to enter human blood cells.

This experiment was widely condemned asirresponsible, and Xe is currently behind bars in China, and his case is under investigation. News of the first genetically edited children also generated rumors that CRISPR technology could be used once to create super-intelligent people, perhaps as part of a biotech race between the US and China.

There is no evidence that Hee reallyIn fact, he intended to change the intelligence of the twins. MIT Technology Review contacted scientists researching the effects of CCR5 on cognition, and they say that the Chinese scientist did not contact them in the hope of receiving scientific advice or support - as was the case with other groups of scientists.

"As far as I know, he did not ask anything," says Miu Zhou, a professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California.

Although Heh never consultedbrain researchers, the Chinese scientist undoubtedly knew about the connection of CCR5 and cognitive abilities. It was Zhou and Silva who showed this connection in 2016, finding that removing the gene in mice significantly improved their memory. The team reviewed more than 140 different genetic changes to find out which of them made the mice smarter.

Silva says that by virtue of his research hesometimes met with individuals in Silicon Valley and everywhere where, in his opinion, there was an unhealthy interest in designer babies with improved brains. That is why, when the birth of twins became public domain on November 25, Silva said that he immediately became interested in whether there was an attempt to make such a change. “I suddenly realized - my goodness, this is happening seriously. My reaction was deep disgust and sadness. ”

During the meeting of scientists from the field of editingGenes, which took place two days later in Hong Kong, he admitted that he already knew about all these possible effects on the brain from a study at the University of California at Los Angeles. “I saw this work, it needs more independent verification,” he replied after asking about it. “I’m against using genome editing to improve.”

Whatever the true goals of He, continuethere is evidence that CCR5 plays an important role in the brain. Today, for example, Silva and a large group of American-Israeli scientists claim that they have obtained new evidence that CCR5 acts as a suppressor of memories and synaptic connections.

According to their new research publishedin Cell magazine, people with a natural CCR5 deficiency recover from strokes faster. Moreover, those who do not have at least one copy of this gene do better at school, that is, all this affects everyday intelligence.

"We were the first to report the function of CCR5 in the brainhuman performance, and an increased level of academic achievement, ”says UCLA biologist Thomas Carmichael, research manager He calls the link to success in education “teasing,” but says that this requires further study.

CCR5 discoveries have already been followed.trials of patients with stroke and HIV, who sometimes suffer from memory problems. In these studies, one of which is conducted at UCLA, people are given a drug against HIV — Maraviroc — which chemically blocks CCR5 to see that there is no improvement in their cognitive abilities.

Silva says there is a big difference betweenan attempt to correct the deficiency in these patients and an attempt to improve. “Cognitive problems are one of the urgent problems of medicine. Preparations are needed, but it’s quite another thing to take normal people and change their DNA or chemistry for improvement. We just don't know enough to do that. Nature has a very good balance. ”

Just because we do not change the usualintelligence does not mean that we can not. Silva says that genetic manipulations created "smart mice" and showed that this is not only possible, but that the change in the CCR5 gene plays a big role in this.

“Is it possible that sometime in the future wecan we increase the average IQ of the population? I would not be a scientist if I said no. Working in mice demonstrates that the answer is obvious - yes. But mice are not humans. We just do not know what the consequences will be. We are not ready yet. ”

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