Investigation is launched into 'monstrous' claims a Chinese scientist genetically edited humans

In a YouTube video posted Monday, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China said his goal was to give the babies a natural ability to resist HIV when he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment, which had led to the birth of twins earlier this month. The Chinese university has launched an investigation into He’s claims, saying that He has been on unpaid leave since February and warned the research was a “serious violation of academic ethics and norms.” A joint statement from a group of 100 scientists in China criticized the project, calling it “a great blow” to the country’s reputation.

He posted five videos altogether Monday, saying he used the gene editing technology known as Crispr to rewrite the DNA of twin girls and claimed the experiment had "worked safely as intended" and that the girls were "as healthy as any other babies.” In the videos, the scientist defended his work, saying in one, "I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology. And I’m willing to take the criticism for them." Despite providing no evidence or documentation to back up the claims, He said he plans to share data about the trial at a scientific forum this week in Hong Kong and promised his results would be submitted for peer review and published.

Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of gene editing technology Crisp called for a global moratorium, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the lack of transparency. The issue of genetic editing is deeply controversial, and though scientists in Britain and the United States (U.S.) have experimented with genetic editing in human embryos, but it is currently illegal to implant them. Last September, scientists at Sun Yat-sen University, China used an adapted version of gene-editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos, but they were destroyed after a few weeks of fertilisation.

Director of Human Genetics Alert Dr. David King said, “If these claims are true, the world has changed – it’s a day that I and many others have dreaded. But it underscores the need for an immediate global ban on the cloning and genetic engineering of human beings.

Professor Julian Salulescu, an expert in medical ethics from Oxford University said that in most other countries he would be facing jail. “If true, this experiment is monstrous,” he said. “These healthy babies are being used as genetic guinea pigs. This is genetic Russian Roulette. It exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit and contravenes decades on ethical consensus and guidelines on the protection of human participants in research. In many other places in the world, this would be illegal punishable by imprisonment.”