Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Chinese scientist who claims to have edited baby DNA is reportedly not under house arrest after all - Business Insider

The university in southern China linked to its DNA-editing former associate professor He Jiankui, has told the South China Morning Post that the scientist has not been put under house arrest, despite reports that he had.

He, who stands by his claims to have produced the world's first gene-edited babies, was reported by local Hong Kong's Ming Pao (明報) local newspaper to have been brought back to Shenzhen by the university's president and placed under house arrest somewhere on campus.

The reports claimed he was taken there after he made an appearance at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Wednesday. He has yet to be seen in public since the summit.

Facing his colleagues at the summit, He defended the experiments that have attracted global condemnation.

In a glowing interview with CCTV in 2017, He was praised for his work in radical gene-sequencing and comes off as gripped by an enthusiasm for the apparent enormity of the experiments.

"Some people said we shook the global gene-sequencing industry. Right. It's me. He Jiankui. I did it," he told CCTV.

However, last week, Xu Nanping, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, told the Xinhua News Agency that Chinese authorities had ordered the research of anybody involved in "the gene-edited babies incident" to be suspended.

Xu said the experiments were "extremely abominable in nature."

He's instant notoriety that has since stunned the science world began a week earlier with a YouTube video in which he claimed that gene-edited twins had been born in China. He has not produced any scientific literature to back up the claims.

He said that his team of researchers had modified twin sisters' embryos using a molecular tool that allows scientists to edit sections of DNA. In this case, allegedly switching off an HIV-related gene because their father, but not their mother, was infected with the virus.

The result He claims, was newborn twin girls, who have been bestowed with immunity to HIV through "CRISPR"-edited DNA.

Many researchers are interested in using the CRISPR technology to eliminate or treat genetic diseases, as Business Insider has previously reported, but the idea that He has gone ahead and manipulated human genes caused much disquiet.

More than 120 researchers condemned He's work in a letter as "unethical" and "crazy," while in this article from Qianlong.net, He is condemned for "opening Pandora's Box just for an irresponsible adventure."

He was also condemned by Chinese health officials and is facing an investigation from the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has ordered him or anyone connected to the experiments not to touch a test tube.

A spokeswoman for the SUSTC told The Post that the only information about his whereabouts that now mattered was going to come via the official channels.

"Right now nobody's information is accurate, only the official channels are," the spokeswoman told The Post.

The Shenzhen university distanced itself from He in a statement Monday. It said the researcher had been on unpaid leave from February 1, 2018 and was not expected to return until January 2021.

It also said it would establish an independent committee and investigate the matter.

It certainly wasn't always this bleak for the scientist local media have begun calling "China's Frankenstein," (中国的弗兰肯斯坦). According to public records reviewed by The Post, from 2015, He had received 41.5 million yuan (US$5.96 million) in government funding for his research on genome sequencing.



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