Chinese Scientist's Gene Edited Human Babies Claim Triggers Huge Controversy

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 3, 2018

But Mr Jiankui and his team, writing in an ethics statement they submitted past year, believe the research is important.

The scientist announced the alleged feat in an interview with the AP and to organizers of a gene editing conference in Hong Kong.

He said that Lulu and Nana had been born "crying into the world as healthy as any other babies" a few weeks ago. Without such documentation, it's impossible to verify whether the girls indeed showed successful CRISPR editing or not.

Gene editing is banned in Britain, the U.S. many other parts of the world, largely because its long-term effects on mental and physical health are poorly understood.

In this October 9, 2018 photo, Lin Zhitong speaks during an interview in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.

On Sunday, news broke that a Chinese scientist had apparently created the world's first gene-edited babies to protect them from contracting HIV.

According to the researcher, the DNA of twin girls was altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.

Scientific communities have strongly condemned He's work. "Society will decide what to do next". He, a Stanford and Rice University trained physicist, said he used the technique CRISPR to help a married Chinese couple conceive twins immune to HIV. "The University will call for worldwide experts to form an independent committee to investigate this incident, and to release the results to the public".

However, the university told media outlets He's work "seriously violated academic ethics and standards". But the AP reports that he has since left Hong Kong, saying through a spokesperson, "I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work".

Currently, China's National Health Commission has requested an immediate investigation into the case after the hospital at which He claimed to have obtained his approval documents denied having been involved in the research, according to CNN. "We set out stringent criteria that would need to be met" to justify embryo editing, he said.

In this October 9, 2018 photo, a microplate containing embryos that have been injected with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA is seen in a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province.

CRISPR is a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit sections of DNA.

The MIT Technology Review warns that "the technology is ethically charged because changes to an embryo would be inherited by future generations and could eventually affect the entire gene pool".

By editing this tag, scientists are able to target the enzyme to specific regions of DNA and make precise cuts, wherever they like. He's fairly convinced that the experiment was real, though the results have yet to be published in the open scientific literature.

Julian Savulescu, a medical ethics expert at Britain's University of Oxford, agreed.

Conference moderator Robin Lovell-Badge said He's trial was a "backward step" for the science industry, but described the babies' birth as "momentous" nonetheless.

He also stated that his goal was not just to cure or prevent hereditary disease, but to try to introduce into the child's DNA characteristics that occur in some people due to natural mutations - the ability to resist HIV infection. Hai Do was the editor.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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