Superhuman revulsion

Remember that Chinese scientist who used CRISPR to make a pair of twins immune to HIV?

Well, it turns out his gene editing did a whole lot more than that for the twins.

In the last week or so, news has surfaced that the gene editing that he did may have also raised their intelligence levels and improved their memory.

And it’s also clear that he knew about these “side effects”.

From MIT Review:

Although He [He Jiankui] never consulted the brain researchers, the Chinese scientist was certainly aware of the link between CCR5 and cognition.  It was first shown in 2016 by Zhou and Silva, who found that removing the gene from mice significantly improved their memory. The team had looked at more than 140 different genetic alterations to find which made mice smarter.

The article continues:

During a summit of gene editing scientists that occurred two days later in Hong Kong, He acknowledged he had known all along about the potential brain effects from the UCLA research. “I saw that paper, it needs more independent verification,” He replied when asked about it during a Q&A session (see video here). He added: “I am against using genome editing for enhancement.” 

Whatever He’s true aims, evidence continues to build that CCR5 plays a major role in the brain. Today, for example, Silva and a large team from the US and Israel say they have new proof that CCR5 acts as a suppressor of memories and synaptic connections.

According to their new report, appearing in the journal Cell, people who naturally lack CCR5 recover more quickly from strokes. What’s more, people missing at least one copy of the gene seem to go further in school, suggesting a possible role in everyday intelligence.

As you can imagine, many commenters are now asking the question:

Was the increased intelligence memory function and synaptic connections really just a happy side effect of He’s experiment. Or was it the experiment’s real aim?

Well, if this was a film, he would certainly have been planning this from the start, probably with the secret backing of the Chinese government or some Silicon Valley billionaire.

That prospect certainly has Alcino Silva rattled – the scientist whose lab uncovered the connection this specific gene-editing procedure has with intelligence and memory.

From MIT Technology Review:

Silva says because of his research, he sometimes interacts with figures in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who have, in his opinion, an unhealthy interest in designer babies with better brains. That’s why, when the birth of the twins became public on November 25, Silva says he immediately wondered if it had been an attempt at this kind of alteration. “I suddenly realized—Oh, holy shit, they are really serious about this bullshit,” says Silva. “My reaction was visceral repulsion and sadness.”

It’s hard to work out anyone’s real motives in this case, or what it will lead to in the future.

This could very well be the start of a superhuman gene-editing arms race.

Or, it could just be an, admittedly reckless, scientist trying to cure a devastating disease.

What do you think? Let me know: harry@southbankresearch.com

UBI makes people happier

Universal basic income (UBI) is a topic I have covered a lot in Exponential Investor.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you can check out my three-part series on it from back in September:

  1. I ain’t got time to bleed
  2. Free money for everyone
  3. What we can learn from UBI pilots around the world

One of the world’s major UBI experiments has recently come to an end. And although this experiment did not provide a real UBI in any sense. It did reveal some interesting results.

From Fast Company:

Can we draw any meaningful conclusions about what a true, well-structured UBI would actually do from Finland’s trial?

Yes: In terms of intangibles like stress levels, trust in government, and overall well-being, even Finland’s poorly designed basic income worked wonders. Compared to the control group, monthly payment recipients reported a 37% reduction in depression levels, a 22% improvement in confidence for their futures, and an 11% bump in faith in politicians. These results, Marinescu says, track alongside findings from other studies examining the effects of cash bonuses on people. People living on Native American reservations who receive stipends from casino profits, for instance, report lower levels of stress and depression. “There’s a broadly consistent effect of feeling financially safe,” Marinescu says.

It’s not accurate to say that Finland’s trial was a success. Its goal was conservatively motivated and misaligned with what UBI sets out to accomplish. But a true UBI ultimately aims to make life better for the people who receive it. Finland’s program began to accomplish that, and it’s not hard to imagine what kinds of benefits a more robust and considered basic income program could deliver.

I guess that conclusion is obvious.

Of course having financial security would increase your confidence in the future.

But it is still interesting.

Little by little the idea of UBI is taking hold. And hopefully over the next few years we’ll see some genuinely well-thought-out experiments into it.

Speaking of increasing your financial security, have you got your pass for Eoin Treacy’s gold summit yet?

If not, you can get your free all-access pass here.
With all the political uncertainty over Brexit, now could be an opportune time to look into investing in gold.

As Eoin Treacy said in my interview with him last Monday:

Gold is very much its own asset class that does not march to the beat of the drum governments or what the international community focus on.

Uncertainty in the political sphere is good for gold. There is no equivocation on that point. It is the ultimate hedge against political turmoil.

For Wednesday’s summit Eoin has gathered six of the world’s top gold experts to reveal why gold demand could be about to erupt.

And he wants to show you how you could make a fortune from it.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can get a free all-access pass to Eoin’s gold summit here.
Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Genetics and Biotechnology

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