Scientific community outraged at Chinese scientist's gene editing baby claims

World’s 1st Genetically Modified Babies? Chinese geneticist reveals another ‘potential’ gene-edited pregnancy

He Jiankui, a Stanford University alumnus, now working at a laboratory in Shenzhen, made the announcement on Wednesday on the fringes of an global conference in Hong Kong.

A few days ago, Chinese researcher and now suspended university scientist He Jiankui revealed that he had conducted gene editing work on human embryos which eventually resulted in pregnancies that were carried to term.

He Jiankui at the conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The MIT Technology Review warned 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".

The main objection to He's supposed gene-editing of Nana and Lulu boils down to one simple fact: messing with a human's genes is incredibly risky and inhumane, mostly because we don't fully understand how it works.

He, who reportedly heads six companies primarily in the genetics sector, said he aims to alter the babies' genes in a way that would protect them from future HIV infection, according to the South China Morning Post.

Geneticist He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, defended his work on Wednesday in front of a packed biomedical conference in Hong Kong, saying he had successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father.

The claims were made in the days ahead of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, where He is slated to speak on two panels, including a breakout session on embryo and germline editing titled "A Forward Look at Research, Application, and Governance". This indicates that the research of gene editing in China not only has a promising potential, but is also responding to the public's needs, stated Liang Chen, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University.

In a statement published Monday, the conference organizing committee said genome editing trials should be conducted "only for compelling medical reasons in the absence of reasonable alternatives, and with maximum transparency and strict oversight".

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Nobel prize-winning geneticist David Baltimore, who is taking part in the conference, described He's work as a failure of self-regulation among scientists.

The Shenzen scientist who had trained as a researcher in the United States added that seven embryos were altered with powerful tools, resulting in the birth of twin sisters with modified DNA.

China's Science and Technology Department says his research, if true, is banned in China and deserves severe punishment.

The gene-edited twins matter reported by the media has brazenly violated Chinese laws and regulations and breached the science ethics bottom line, which is both shocking and unacceptable, Xu Nanping, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, told Xinhua.

He's university has disavowed his research, saying in a statement that it was "deeply shocked" and accusing He of "seriously [violating] academic ethics and codes of conduct".

Hundreds of scientists, both in China and around the world, swiftly condemned his claims.

"The volunteers were informed of the risk posed by the existence of one potential off-target and they chose to implant", he said. He disclosed that a second gene-altered pregnancy is now underway, AP reported.

He, who said he was against gene enhancement, said eight couples were initially enrolled for his study while one dropped out.

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