Chinese scientist created human babies using gene editing resistant to HIV

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He Jiankui, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, spoke on Wednesday at an global conference on genome editing in Hong Kong.

The organizer's of a Hong Kong Conference, where He announced his gene-editing claims, described his work on Thursday as "deeply disturbing" and "irresponsible". Editing the genes of embryos is banned in many countries because DNA changes passed to future generations could have unanticipated effects on the entire gene pool. Still, that practice is surrounded by intense ethical debate, questions on the regulation of safety and is governed by laws in some countries; in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to gene edit human embryos over 14 days old.

He argued in his conference talk that the editing he did on the embryos of the newborn twin girls and on the third embryo-which, if successful, would confer resistance to HIV infection-is akin to a vaccine, the AP reports.

University professor He, based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, said the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV.

As CNN reports, He's associate, Michael Deem of Rice University, is now also under investigation due to his claimed role in the work. "I personally don't think it was medically necessary".

Speaking in a question-and-answer session after He's presentation on Wednesday, Baltimore said the case showed that "there has been a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community because of the lack of transparency".

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The experiment has prompted heated debate among scientists over the risks involved.

A union of Chinese scientists issued a statement saying it "resolutely opposes so-called scientific researches and biotech applications that violate the spirit of science and ethics", Xinhua said.

Xu called the team's actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered, but made no mention of specific actions taken. "I feel proudest", He said, when challenged by several peers at the Human Genome Editing Summit at the University of Hong Kong.

The revelation led to a barrage of criticism from scientists around the world, with a joint statement signed by 120 leading Chinese scientists condemning such experimentation as "madness" while calling on authorities to enact laws against this kind of research.

He revealed how he modified the twins' DNA using CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

The China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), a research society mainly comprised of researchers and scientists, said He Jiankui's candidacy of an award for young scientists will be disqualified, as CAST adopts a "zero tolerance" attitude to those who breach scientific ethics and norms. He claimed he spliced the genes to become more HIV / AIDS-resistant. "Only found out about it after it happened and the children were born", Baltimore said.