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Watching CRISPR

CRISPR is on the Los Angeles Times' list of nine science stories to watch in the coming year.

The gene-editing tool also had an eventful 2018. In November, researcher He Jiankui announced the birth of twin girls in China whose genomes he had edited using CRISPR as embryos. This led to condemnation by many scientists, including the International Human Genome Editing Summit and more than a hundred researchers in China, as well as investigations. The World Health Organization also said it would be setting up a panel to develop gene-editing standards.

The LA Times predicts that the issues this work has brought up will "be front and center in 2019." It says that researchers and regulators would be monitoring the health of these twin girls and searching for any signs of off-target effects of the editing. NPR adds that grappling with ethical ramifications of gene editing of embryos has now shot to the top of the field's to-do list.

"People are saying, you know, maybe we should have a moratorium on doing any more gene-editing experiments on human embryos until we've sorted this stuff out," NPR's Rob Stein says. "Other people are saying, but that would be really bad for the future of this research. And so there's a big debate going on."

Still, the LA Times notes that gene-editing work will continue in other capacities.