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Top News: Ban on Gene-Editing, Melting Arctic and Opportunity’s Last Photos

Top News: Ban on Gene-Editing, Melting Arctic and Opportunity’s Last Photos

Scientists ask for a global ban on gene-editing for clinical uses, the UN reveals the dimension of the Arctic’s catastrophe and NASA shows the last photos taken by the Opportunity rover; these were our favourite stories from this week. 

Scientists call for a temporary ban for gene-editing on human sperm, eggs or embryos

In an open letter to the Nature journal, eighteen scientists ask for a global moratorium on all clinical use of gene-editing techniques that can cause permanent changes in human DNA. Some of the leading proponents of CRISPR, such as Emmanuelle Charpentier and Eric Lander, are among the signatories of the moratorium.

The ban in all clinical uses (which involve the transfer of an embryo to a human uterus) of germline-editing would allow for a global and much-needed discussion about the technical and ethical implications of techniques such as CRISPR, the scientists defend, while pointing that the moratorium does not apply to research uses or to non-germline cells.

“We call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met”, the experts write. Countries may prolong the global moratorium indefinitely or allow specific applications of germline editing, as long as they make these applications public, engage in an international consultation about the pertinence of the techniques’ use and ensure that there is a societal consensus about the appropriateness of these applications.

The decision to call for a global moratorium comes four months after He Jiankui claimed that he edited embryos to create two babies in China.

Read the full letter to Nature here.

Chronicle of a tragedy foretold: the Arctic

Winter temperatures in the Arctic will increase 3ºC to 5ºC by 2050 even if the Paris Agreement’s goals are met. The scenario is even scarier when we look at 2080: expect an increase between 5ºC and 9ºC, according to a new report by the UN Environment. In fact, even if the greenhouse gas emission stopped overnight, the Arctic temperatures would still rise 4 to 5ºC because of the ocean heat storage and the gases already emitted until this point in history.

Four million people live in the Arctic; local communities, which have survived the harsh environment of the region, are directly threatened by this foreseen catastrophe. But, as the old saying goes, “what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic”: changes in the region will affect the health and stability of the entire planet. If CO2 emissions continue at the current rate, the ice layers will disappear in the Arctic summers by 2030, contributing to dramatic ocean rise levels.

Read the UN Report here.

Opportunity Rover’s last photos of the Red Planet

On June 10, 2018, the Opportunity went silent. A dust storm had hit and engulfed the robot just a few days before and, despite several attempts to revive it, the Opportunity mission was declared completed. The Opportunity landed on Mars on January 2004 and went on for 45.16 kilometres and 15 years, well beyond the initial plan of 90 days and longer than any robot that worked on the Red Planet.

This week, NASA released a set of the last pictures taken by the Opportunity, from May 13 until June 10, 2018. “This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


A 360-degree panorama, composed of 354 images taken by the Opportunity rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
Click on the picture to access the panorama view