Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced on Sunday that his research team had successfully engineered the first genetically-edited human babies in the world. The genes of the twin girls born this month, He claims, have been altered to make them HIV-resistant.
A gene editing technology called CRISPR-cas9 was used to alter multiple embryos, He said in the original AP report, but this was the only successful pregnancy. He and his team used the technology to disable the gene that allows HIV to enter cells.
He took to YouTube to announce the apparent milestone:
The controversial news sparked an onslaught of criticism in Chinese and international academia. On Monday, 122 Chinese scientists published a joint statement decrying human experiments and calling for a legal investigation into the study. He’s university, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, announced it would invite experts to conduct such a review and also distanced itself from He’s research, claiming to not have known it was taking place.
The overwhelming majority of reactions from Chinese netizens were just as critical. Many voiced concerns about the damage this will do to the reputation of Chinese science, one top comment on Weibo reading, “A shame to the medical sciences, and a shame to Chinese biomedical engineers.”
Some expressed worry for the two girls, unsure about what health problems they may encounter in the future. One reads, “And those two…girls? What are we supposed to do?”
Others voiced concerns about the future of humanity as a whole, like one that reads, “Pandora’s Box.” Another used the Chinese Chess term, “Firing after the horse,” to imply that this is an ethical problem now too late to correct.
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