The agency, however, is not offering a $64,000 prize for the answer. No quiz show contest at the Oakland headquarters of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known.
Instead the Raelian recollection is the lead-in to a cautionary note about the reports out of China that a researcher, who once worked at Stanford, has genetically altered two babies in embryo. The news has triggered an international flap about the ethics involved along with warnings about gene editing that results in "new kinds of human beings."
Writing on the agency's blog, Kevin McCormack, senior director for CIRM communications, said,
"Remember the Raelians? Probably not. But way back in 2002 the group, some described them as a cult, claimed it had created the world’s first cloned baby. The news made headlines all around the world raising fears we were stepping into uncharted scientific territory. Several weeks later the scientist brought in by the Raelians to verify their claims called it an 'elaborate hoax.'"McCormack cautioned that ultimately the news out of China could amount to the same sort of thing.
He noted the use of the CRISPR gene editing technique which has made it much easier to dip into the genetic process. McCormack wrote,
"CRISPR has been making headlines all of its own in the last few years as a fast, cheap and efficient way of editing genes. CIRM supports research using CRISPR for problems such as sickle cell disease. The difference being that our research works with adults so any changes in their genes are just for them. Those changes are not passed on to future generations.
"The work making headlines around the world used CRISPR on embryos, meaning a child born from one of those embryos would pass those changes on to future generations. In effect, creating a new kind of human being."McCormack picked up a sample of reaction around the world, including a comment from Stanford bioethicist Hank Greely on CNBC. Greeley said that that if the report is accurate, the research is "criminally reckless, and I unequivocally condemn the experiment.”
"Our best hope right now is that this is just a repeat of the Raelians. Our worst fear, is that it’s not."