The Chinese scientist who claims to have edited baby DNA is downplaying reports that he is under house arrest. Here's a timeline of the controversy.

He Jiankui

  • Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims to have made the first genetically edited babies in the world using CRISPR technology.
  • Many scientists, ethicists, and government officials have criticized He, calling his research unethical and dangerous.
  • After presenting his findings at an international summit in November 2018, He vanished from public view until reports claimed he was being detained at a university guesthouse.
  • On January 7, The Telegraph reported that He may face the death penalty. Since then, new reports have quoted scientists saying He told them he is well and unharmed.

In November 2018, a Chinese scientist claimed he had made the first genetically-edited babies in the world, causing sharp criticism from other scientists, ethicists, and government officials.

The scientist, He Jiankui, used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-cas9, which is considered risky because it can inadvertently change a large portion of a person’s DNA and have unintended consequences.

He, who worked on the experiment with US scientist Michael Deem, said he edited a gene called CCR5. The gene forms a „doorway“ that allows HIV to enter cells, and turning it off makes people resistant to being infected in the future.

Even if everything went according to plan, the babies could be at greater risk of future health problems. The Associated Press reported that people without a regular CCR5 gene are more likely to catch the West Nile virus and die from the flu. 

Read more: Bill Gates says it would be a ‚tragedy‘ to pass up a controversial, revolutionary gene-editing technology

Many of He’s colleagues — including more than 120 Chinese scientists — have criticized He for choosing this route, saying there are plenty of ways to prevent HIV without putting someone in danger.

He has denied the twin girls were harmed.

Since November, He has became the subject of several investigations. Last week, several news outlets reported that he has been detained and may face the death penalty, though the scientist has reportedly said he is fine

Take a look at this timeline explaining the controversy surrounding He’s research.

On November 26, He told an organizer of an international genome editing conference that he had altered the DNA of two baby girls. The Chinese scientist claimed he had altered the embryos for seven different couples, though only one person was pregnant as of November.

He said his goal was not to cure an inherited disease or even to prevent one. Instead, he wanted the babies to have a specific trait: the ability to resist an HIV infection.

His claims had not been corroborated by other experts or published in a journal before the scientist came forward. 

The university he worked at called for an investigation into He’s research and said his work „seriously violated academic ethics and standards.“

It was not immediately clear if the participants had known what He wanted to do. The Associated Press reported that consent forms called his project an „AIDS vaccine development“ program.

He described his research at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28 in Hong Kong. He said he felt „proud“ and noted that a third gene-edited baby could be born as a result of his work.

The researcher said „yes“ when asked if the pregnancy was in an early stage, but he did not provide any more information.

He also said he submitted his research to a scientific journal for review, but he did not specify which publication he reached out to.

Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where He conducted research, released a statement saying He’s experiment was done „outside of the campus and was not reported to the University nor the Department.“

Rice University, where Deem is listed as a professor of bioengineering, told STAT that it opened an investigation into the experiment.


China said on November 29 that it had suspended He’s work, adding that his behavior seemed to violate Chinese law.

China’s vice minister of science and technology, Xu Nanping, said He was still under investigation, but news reports had made it seem like he violated laws and broke „the bottom line of morality and ethics that the academic community adheres to,“ The New York Times reported.

He was initially supposed to speak again at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, but his November 29 talk was canceled.

Robin Lovell-Badge — a British scientist who helped organize the summit — said He had chosen not to attend after learning that it would have been tough to find enough security for the event, The Times reported.

Lovell-Badge told The Times he did not regret allowing He to present his research at the summit, but giving him a second chance to speak may have been perceived as showing support.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Source: Business insider

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