Chinese scientist behind genetically-edited babies publicly defends his research

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The idea of scientists tinkering with the genes of babies was once the provenance of science fiction, but now it's apparently entered the realm of reality: On Nov. 26, Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported the historic live births of twin girls whose genes he had edited. He appeared to have "blatantly violated China's relevant laws and regulations" and broken "the bottom line of morality and ethics that the academic community adheres to", the state broadcaster China Central Television reported on Thursday.

"It's shocking and unacceptable", Xu was quoted by the China Daily as saying in the interview.

They say there are serious unanswered questions about the safety of embryo editing and a need to make sure that such research is conducted in a transparent, monitored way so the technology isn't misused.

The researcher, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed to have altered the DNA of the twins to try to make them resistant to infection with HIV - a precursor to the AIDS virus - an action that he said he was "proud" of.

He added that the experiment would "be considered irresponsible" because it did not meet criteria many scientists agreed on several years ago before gene editing could be considered.

Many mainstream scientists think it's too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation.

Dr Xu Nanping, China's Vice-Minister of Science and Technology, said Dr He's work was still being investigated.

Conference leaders called for an independent investigation of the claim by Mr He, of Shenzhen, who spoke to the group on Wednesday as worldwide criticism of his claim mounted.

He, however, declined to reveal the babies' identities, citing China's policy regarding privacy in cases involving HIV/AIDS.

He said seven couples are involved in the study; all of the fathers are HIV positive and the mothers are HIV negative.

Chinese bioethicist Zhai Xiaomei said the informed consent He posted on his laboratory's website did not comply with the global community's consensus on genome editing.

"We care deeply about the two babies and appeal for the research and formulation of detailed medical and ethical care plans", it said.

"It is seemingly ethically problematic to find these so-called volunteers to do this experiment, because these are people of a more vulnerable group, they could be easily manipulated and affected", Au said, adding that he questioned whether the couples really understood the experiment and knew the risks. 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 was supposed to speak at the conference again on Thursday, but he disappeared from the schedule. "I think it's a puzzling choice and a poor choice", Musunuru says of targeting the CCR5 gene.

He's announcement, on the eve of an worldwide symposium about gene-editing, held in Hong Kong, generated strong reaction from scientists and ethicists around the world, many of whom warned that the safety of CRISPR.

Collins said the NIH was taking preliminary steps to investigate a Rice University researcher who served as He's graduate advisor when He pursued graduate study at the Houston university and who has acknowledged participating in his protege's research. Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts.