The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans

St. Martin’s. Oct. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781250265357. $28.99. SCI
Cultural anthropologist Kirksey (Deakin Univ., Melbourne; Emergent Ecologies) immersed himself in the world of genetic medicine to report on the status of human genetic engineering, from custom-made gene therapies for cancer and HIV patients to gene editing in reproductive medicine. But the centerpiece of Kirskey’s story is the secret experiment of Chinese scientist Jiankui He, who used the gene editing tool CRISPR to modify a gene in human embryos to be HIV resistant and, disregarding ethical and legal issues, transplanted the embryos back into the mother. Kirksey traces Jiankui He’s spectacular rise to superstar scientist and his equally spectacular fall owing to the negative reaction following the announcement that his CRISPR-modified embryos resulted in the birth of twin girls. Despite the scientific community’s condemnation of Jiankui He’s experiment, the author believes that human gene experimentation will continue to race forward without adequate ground rules or oversight, in China and elsewhere.
VERDICT A fascinating albeit chilling account of how human embryo engineering moved from the realm of sf to scientific fact. Recommended for anyone interested in the brave new world of genetic engineering technologies.

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