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New Scientist 8-dec-18

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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51 Issues


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climate moment

(REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)FOR anyone with a keen sense of irony, the latest round of climate talks offer rich pickings. Not only is the meeting being held in Katowice, Poland – the coal‑mining capital of one of Europe’s most coal-addicted countries – but the talks are also sponsored by a coal company, JSW. It is shameless about its motives. “We hope that our participation… will contribute to promotion of JSW as an environment-friendly leader of the mining industry,” said its president, Daniel Ozon.As a symbol of the rich and powerful’s attitude to climate change, you couldn’t get more apposite. The world has already warmed by 1°C and is all but committed to 1.5°C, which scientists say is the maximum tolerable rise. But global carbon dioxide emissions are still growing. At the rate…

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rewriting our future

WE HUMANS have been shaping our own evolution for millions of years, through changes in the way we live, eat and reproduce.Until now, such adaptations have depended on the random nature of evolution, taking thousands of years. The CRISPR gene-editing method has the potential to change that, giving us the power to fully take the reins of our genetic destiny, and at speed.Last week, He Jiankui announced he had created the first gene-edited babies by using CRISPR to alter a gene in human embryos (see page 6). This was shocking given most scientists believe making genetic changes that could be passed on to future generations is a line we aren’t ready to cross.Now that we have crossed this line so casually, it is clear that careful regulation of such technologies…

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what the experts say

“I am shocked and disgusted by this news. This work sets a dangerous precedent, unless there is broad global rejection of the clinical processes used. The global scientific community has reacted strongly [with] calls for verification and re-doubled efforts to put in place criteria for the clinical use of CRISPR.”Jennifer Doudna, at the University of California, Berkeley, who discovered a way to use CRISPR to edit genes“If the twins, and one more pregnancy in progress, are very healthy, then there will probably be additional germline editing clinical trials soon. We either allow or outlaw. If the latter, then we may drive it underground – just as it is moving from hypothetical speculation to rigorous testing.”George Church, at Harvard University, who helped develop the capability for CRISPR to be used in…

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the crispr bombshell

“I FEEL proud, actually.” So He Jiankui told his peers as he stood up to defend gene editing twins before birth at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on 28 November.Two days earlier, He’s experiment – the world’s first reported births following genetic modification of human embryos – had been revealed by the Associated Press news agency.Working in China, He says he has been using the CRISPR gene-editing technique (see “What is CRISPR?”, right) on human embryos to create people who are resistant to HIV. So far, this has resulted in two babies: twin girls, born in November.The experiment flies in the face of widespread agreement among geneticists that it is too soon to be attempting trials like this. There have been more than 60…

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what is crispr?

We have been modifying plants and animals for decades, but it has been done by simply chucking extra DNA into a cell, with no way of ensuring that it safely inserts itself into the genome. As a result, no one tried this in human embryos as there was no way to guarantee it was safe.Then came CRISPR gene editing, discovered in 2012. At its heart, CRISPR is a way of searching through the 3 billion DNA letters in our genome to find a particular sequence. It used to take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a custom protein to seek out a specific sequence. CRISPR proteins instead work with a guiding piece of genetic code to find the corresponding sequence in DNA. It is both cheap and…

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why was hiv the first target of gene editing?

WHEN presenting his work at the global gene-editing summit, He Jiankui noted the medical seriousness of HIV infection, saying he was proud of his efforts to use CRISPR to create infants that may be resistant to the virus.Is HIV so dangerous that it warrants such a drastic step? Certainly, the toll of HIV infection is high in some parts of the world. But advances in antiviral medicines over the past decade mean that people with HIV who have access to good healthcare now have a close-to-normal lifespan. The HIV-positive fathers who took part in the trial are reported to have had their virus under control, suggesting these men had access to such drugs.Gene editing doesn’t offer HIV-positive men their only chance to have unaffected children. Current treatments for HIV push…