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Chinese Scientist Claims to Have Created World’s First Gene-Edited Babies

Dr. He Jiankui’s declaration prompted a group of 122 scientists to issue a statement condemning his actions as “crazy.”

According to the Associated Press, on Monday the Chinese scientist said he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies — two twin girls who were born this month using a powerful gene-editing technique known as Crispr.

The researcher claimed that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before implanting them in the mother’s womb, with the aim of ensuring the babies are resistant to HIV.

He did not, however, offer any evidence of his work, nor did he allow independent verification or publication in a peer-reviewed journal, though his earlier research is known to many respected scientists, some of whom claim it’s likely he successfully edited the genes.

“The girls are safe and healthy as any other babies,” Dr. He told the news source. The doctor was educated at Stanford University and now works in a lab in Shenzhen.

Gene editing is illegal in many countries, including the United States, while a panel of experts from UNESCO has previously called for a complete ban of the practice. In China, the technique is not currently illegal. Much of the global concern is centered on the possibility that it could be used to alter intellectual capabilities or appearance, or even cause irreparable damage in other genes by mistake.

Dr. He told AP that there have been no adverse effects on other genes in the two girls. His announcement was made the day before the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing began in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the university Dr. He is associated with, the Southern University of Science and Technology, said he has been on unpaid leave since the beginning of the year and, according to the state-run Beijing News, described his project as a “serious violation of academic ethics.”

The Guardian has since reported that China has called for an "immediate investigation" into Dr. He.

[Photo via AP]

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