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Scientists Debate a Recent Claim that Chinese Twins Were Genetically Edited; Some Americans in Rural Communities Grapple with Unsafe Drinking Water

Aired November 29, 2018 - 04:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: A passionate debate is taking place worldwide over claims that genetically human children were recently born in China.

I`m Carl Azuz. This is CNN 10.

Here`s how the debate got started. A Chinese scientist named He Jiankui, he`s an associate professor at a Chinese university, announced earlier this

week that a pair of twin girls was born this month after their embryos were altered to make them resistant to human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

Their parents, according to Professor He, volunteered for the experiment. The father is believed to carry HIV.

Professor He also appeared to suggest that a third genetically modified baby is possible that the pregnancy is in the early stages.

How could this be done?

Professor He claims to have used CRISPR, a genetic editing tool, to alter the twins` DNA. Researchers say CRISPR makes it possible to change a

particular part of someone`s genome, or delete a gene altogether.

But the idea of a genetically edited child is highly controversial. For one thing, some scientists doubt this even happened. The research hasn`t

been independently confirmed. For another, American biologist and Nobel Prize recipient David Baltimore says genetic editing is irresponsible until

it`s proven to be safe and effective, and it hasn`t yet. Baltimore also says genetically modifying someone to be resistant to HIV isn`t necessary

since there are other treatments available for the disease that attacks the immune system.

A group of Chinese scientists spoke out against the research, suggesting that experimenting on a human is unethically and crazy. And there are

concerns about the consequences of gene editing. A scientist who helped invent CRISPR says when you change one thing, something else gets changed

too, and it`s not known yet what kinds of effects this could have on the Chinese twins.

For his part, the associate professor says he`s proud of his alleged achievement because the parents had, quote, lost hope for life, but now,

the father plans to work hard and take care of his wife and two daughters.


AZUZ (voice-over): Ten-second trivia:

Which of these U.S. government agencies was established the most recently?

The Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the United States Geological Survey, or the Environmental Protection


Established in 1970, the most recently created agency on this list is the EPA.


AZUZ: The EPA`s mission is to work for a cleaner, healthier environment. And it says that for Americans who get their drinking water from community

water systems, more than 92 percent have water that meets all health based standards all the time.

When it comes to drinking water infrastructure, that systems that clean and transport our water, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S.

a grade D. In some parts of rural America, it`s clear why.


SUBTITLE: Enterprise, Louisiana. Population: 258. January 2018, "There are dangerous bacteria in your water."

JODIE VINSON, ENTERPRISE, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: They say, right now, we are under a boil advisory, but boiling your water might still lead worse. So,

if you boil the water to get the bacteria, then you might get the lead content worse. So, really don`t know what to do.

Probably the last year, year and a half, is when we noticed the health issues. We would seem to always, one of us, have either the upset stomach

or throwing up, and the bacteria found in our stomach, H. pylori, which makes me nauseated and painful in the stomach and vomiting.

And then with Blake I guess a year ago, with cough he couldn`t get rid off, and every month going to the doctor with bronchitis or respiratory

infection. My house, the bacteria in the water, less than one is safe and almost 15 times higher.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Was this around the time you got sick?

VINSON: Yes, I was sick in December before (INAUDIBLE)

GANIM: That was when you`re in the hospital --

VINSON: Yes, that`s when I had bacterial meningitis. And then in September 2017 was when I was diagnosed with H. Pylori (ph).

I cannot say that the water made us sick. But I can say that I have proof that it causes what we have. So, we don`t know. We never know. I mean,

you`re afraid to drink it. You`re afraid to open your mouth in the shower.

GANIM: How many times have you had the main outside your house break?

VINSON: Within the last five years, I`m estimating, it`s in the double digits that the main line has broke down and that`s (INAUDIBLE)

GANIM: What`s the likelihood that there`s a link between Jodie and her family`s health problems and the water?

PROFESSOR MARC EDWARDS, VIRGINIA TECH UNIVERSITY: It is the rare, rare exemption when you actually prove cause and effect between a problem in the

water and a known health issue. In my career, I`ve only probably done that definitively, scientifically four times.

VINSON: I buy (ph) about 10 cases of water a week. I go to Jonesville, which is about 25 miles from here. This is actually donated water. We got

each family two cases of water to try to help out with having (INAUDIBLE).

GANIM: Do you know how much the bad water has cost you?

VINSON: Well, we did this bathroom and all the plumbing and that was $10,000. We`ve been through (ph) three hot water heaters, four faucets.

Plus, you know, have all lines in our (INAUDIBLE).

GANIM: It`s an expensive battle against her own tap water, water with bacteria, lead and other contaminants that exceeded EPA limits. That`s

what a team of scientific and academic researchers, including Marc Edwards, found when they tested Enterprise`s water in 2017.

M. EDWARDS: The fact that I have to tell them your system is breaking federal law, there are dangerous bacteria in your water and they cause

almost every element known to human kind, but I can`t definitively say that when you`re sick last week, that was the cause.

GANIM: Edwards has spent nearly two decades testing water and challenging federal, state and local governments on water quality. His most high

profile work was in Flint, Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When mine comes out, it comes out black like coffee.

M. EDWARDS: Enterprise is really true rural America when there is known town center and these are folks who tend to be much more independent,

middle class, rural, southern America.

Your water is really bad to bring here, I`ll tell you. And so, how this has happened so long, I`m not really sure, but let`s get it fixed.

GANIM: They did have illegal water very clearly, right?

M. EDWARDS: Oh, yes.

GANIM: So, whose responsibility is it to fix it?

M. EDWARDS: Well, I think that`s the question we`re all dealing with.

GANIM: It`s a problem on all levels, aging infrastructure across the country colliding with the immense cost of fixing it, which no level of

government can shoulder. To put this into perspective, the EPA`s own estimate puts the bill for water infrastructure improvements at over $743


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS, LOUISIANA: Systems are going to continue to age and they`re going to degrade and we are more constrained than we would like to

be, therefore, we`re not able to invest in all of these improvements as we would like to.

M. EDWARDS: They acknowledged that those problems existed and they weren`t meeting the federal standard. They need to implement corrosion control,

that their disinfection bio products and bacteria were too high. They find out, there`s not money to help you. I respect that personally. At least

he`s honest.

GANIM: The governor`s office told CNN an estimated $10 billion is needed to address water issues in their state alone, but unfortunately the state

doesn`t have that kind of money. And so, he`s organizing a committee to try to help towns like Enterprise.

M. EDWARDS: This is the source of contamination right here.

GANIM: What Edwards sees here, he sees in small towns all across America. While the EPA says that the U.S. has, quote, world class drinking water

standards, and the majority of people do have safe water coming from their tap, the EPA`s own data shows nearly one third of public water systems are

in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That`s more than 87 million Americans.

SUBTITLE: Outstanding debt has precluded Enterprise from applying a grant through the governor`s Rural Water Infrastructure Committee.

The EPA estimates $132.3 billion is needed to repair small water systems across America over the next 20 years.

$805.7 million was allocated to these systems in 2017. Only about 12 percent of the amount needed.


AZUZ: A ping pong return gets a perfect "10 Out of 10" today.

For 15-year-old Chris Chen who`s on the right of your screen, it looked like the point was lost when his opponent went for the smash. But after

falling, Chen bravely sticks up his paddle and defends his side of the table. He did eventually lose the point but he won the match and the place

in viral table tennis history.

You can`t rally, serve up a negative spin on a clip that nets such a response and paddles such a racket. The players seem the types to shake

hands after dropping shots down the line of each other. It`d be a fair point to say there was no love lost.

I`m Carl Azuz, putting puns on the table for CNN ten-nis.