Host of genetic research groups issue backing for inheritable human gene editing

A group of 11 organisations spanning five continents have issued a policy statement in support of current efforts to edit human germline genomes – that is, genes which passed down from parent to child.

The statement, published today in The American Journal of Human Genetics, said that the organisations support publicly funded in-vitro research into germline genome editing, which could eventually be used to eliminate devastating inherited diseases.

However, they stopped short of supporting research that would lead to a human pregnancy, arguing that at this stage it would be inappropriate to undertake.

“Our workgroup on genome editing included experts in several subfields of human genetics as well as from countries with varying health systems and research infrastructure,” said statement lead author Kelly E Ormond, professor of genetics at Stanford University.

“Given this diversity of perspective, we are encouraged by the agreement we were able to reach and hope it speaks to the soundness and wider acceptability of our recommendations.”

A depiction of the now widespread CRISPR-CAS9 gene editing complex, which enables DNA to be edited. Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Ian Slaymaker, Broad Institute

Germline genome editing has only been even hypothetically possible very recently, with the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool in 2013. Allowing precise customisation of genes, it creates whole new possibilities for genetic research, particularly in humans.

However, while scientists feel confident of the technological and scientific prospects, the technology raises significant ethical issues, particularly in germline genomes, where any changes could have an impact for generations.

As a result, the scientists argue that there needs to be strong public discussion about the ethical issues, as well as clear rationale, evidence and ethical justifications for any future research in the area.

“While germline genome editing could theoretically be used to prevent a child being born with a genetic disease, its potential use also raises a multitude of scientific, ethical, and policy questions,” said Derek T Scholes, ASHG director of science policy. “These questions cannot all be answered by scientists alone, but also need to be debated by society.”

“As basic science research into genome editing progresses in the coming years, we urge stakeholders to have these important ethical and social discussions in tandem,” added Ormond.

Conventional two-stranded DNA

As a result, it is likely that we will see far more public discussion before the first gene-edited babies come anywhere close to being conceived.

The statement was authored by the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), the Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors, the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors, the International Genetic Epidemiology Society, and the National Society of Genetic Counselors. It was also endorsed by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Asia Pacific Society of Human Genetics, the British Society for Genetic Medicine, the Human Genetics Society of Australasia, the Professional Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia and the Southern African Society for Human Genetics.

DeepMind’s Go-playing AI can learn the game for itself now

Google’s AI subsidiary DeepMind believes it is one step closer to creating AI with general intelligence because its Go-playing software, AlphaGo, has been updated and can now teach itself how to play. AlphaGo Zero was only programmed with Go's basic rules, and from there it learns everything else by itself.

Source: The Verge

UK spies monitoring social media in mass surveillance tactic

The privacy rights group Privacy International says it has obtained evidence for the first time that UK spy agencies are collecting social media information on potentially millions of people. The discovery raises concerns about whether effective oversight of the mass surveillance programs is in place.

Source: TechCrunch

Blue Origin passes hot-fire test

Blue Origin, the aerospace company fronted and largely funded by Jeff Bezos, has released footage of its BE-4 engine's first and successful completion of a hot-fire test. The successful hotfire supports the idea that Blue Origin could in the future be used for orbital and deep space missions.

Source: Ars Technica

5G to be used by 1 billion people in 2023 with China set to dominate

Analysts at CCS Insight have predicted that 5G technology will be in place by 2020, with China being the main beneficiary. "China will dominate 5G thanks to its political ambition to lead technology development," said Marina Koytcheva, VP Forecasting at CCS Insight.

Source: CNBC

Climate change makes it more likely to see hurricanes in Europe

Meteorologists from the University of Bristol have predicted that the likelihood of hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, much like Hurricane Ophelia did this week, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change.

Source: New Scientist

Russia to launch 'CryptoRuble’

According to local news sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the nation will issue its own cryptocurrency at a closed door meeting in Moscow. The news broke via minister of communications, Nikolay Nikiforov.

Source: Coin Telegraph

Human habitat located on the Moon that will shield us from its extreme elements

Researchers have discovered a potential habitat on the Moon, which may protect astronauts from hazardous conditions on the surface.

No one has ever been on the Moon for longer than three days, largely because space suits alone can’t shield astronauts from its elements: extreme temperature variation, radiation, and meteorite impacts. Unlike Earth, the Moon also has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protects its inhabitants.

However, in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers have claimed that the safest place for astronauts to seek shelter is inside an intact lava tube.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at JAXA, Japan’s space agency.

Image courtesy of Purdue University/David Blair. Featured image courtesy of NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Lava tubes are naturally occurring channels formed when a lava flow develops a hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Once the lava stops flowing, the tunnel sometimes drains, forming a hollow void.

The Lava tubes located by Purdue University researchers are said to be spacious enough to house one of the United States’ largest cities, and while their existence – and in particular their entrance near the Marius Hills Skylight – was previously known, their size was previously an unknown quantity.

“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University.

“Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system. By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are.”

At the first meeting of the US’ reintroduced National Space Council, vice president Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration will redirect America’s focus to travelling back to the Moon.

Pence’s declaration marks a fundamental change for NASA, which abandoned plans to send people to the moon in favour of Mars under President Barack Obama.

“We will return NASA astronauts to the moon – not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said.