The Chinese government has ordered an ‘immediate investigation’ into the delivery of the world's first genetically-edited babies as experts worldwide voiced ethical and moral concerns about such use of the technology.
The pushback comes amid claims by Chinese scientist He Jiankui that he had created the world’s first genetically-edited babies in a move that gave rise to ethical questions about gene editing.
Lulu and Nana whose DNA had been modified to prevent HIV infection. He said the twins’ DNA was modified to allow scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision, The Guardian wrote.
He claims that he used a tool known as CRISPR-cas9, which can insert or deactivate certain genes. In his YouTube video, He describes the procedure as having ‘removed the doorway through which HIV enters’.
"The girls are safe and healthy as any other babies," He said without offering any evidence of his work, which has not been independently verified or published.
The announcement and the accompanying video have prompted a global outcry and an investigation by Chinese health authorities with the National Health Commission ordering officials to ‘seriously investigate and verify’ He’s claims.
Although there is no explicit ban on gene editing of embryos in China, the ministries of science and technology and public health have issued ethical guidelines, which say that no human embryos used for research can been be implanted in humans or animals for reproduction.
While China has pushed ahead with CRISPR research being the first to inject genetically modified cells into a patient with lung cancer and is building the world’s largest DNA database, local scientists were horrified by He’s experiments.
“Pandora’s Box has been opened, but we may still have a chance to close it before it is irreparable,” a group of more than 120 Chinese researchers said in a joint statement criticising the influence of He’s work on other scientists.
“It is extremely unfair to Chinese scientists who are diligent, innovative and defending the bottom line of scientific ethics,” they added.
Scientists outside of China have been equally critical of He’s work warning that modifying healthy embryos in children was irresponsible.
Faced with a barrage of criticism, He defended his work.
“I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology and I’m willing to take the criticism for them,” he said in his video.