Gene-Edited Babies Would Just Be Repeating Nature's Experiment

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Gene-Edited Babies Would Just Be Repeating Nature's Experiment

A Chinese scientist triggered alarm, shock and confusion across the scientific community today with the claim that he had edited the DNA of human embryos to create twin baby girls.

According to He Jiankui, the goal of his work was not to prevent an inherited disease in babies, but to bestow them with a trait to resist any possible future infection with HIV.

No one knows exactly how He Jiankui, on leave from Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, did it. Scientists gathered in Hong Kong at an global summit on human genome editing will have to wait until Wednesday to hear He describe his work in more detail.

A Chinese scientist at the centre of a controversy over what he claims are the world's first genetically edited children has apologised for the result being leaked.

According to the AP, a USA scientist had helped with the project but said that this sort of DNA editing is banned in the States due to risks that could be passed down for generations.

However, the university told media outlets He's work "seriously violated academic ethics and standards". The technology enables scientists to cut an arbitrary DNA sequence in genomes.

He said the DNA had changed in such a way that they never were able to get HIV - AIDS virus.

When the embryo is three to five days, was used CRISPR - already widely known method of genetic editing in which a sequence of genes and remove unnecessary gene. "It's just nearly surreal", said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who said he has seen some of the data behind the experiment.

According to the scientist, the parents participating in the experiment, refuse to reveal their identity and want their names, place of work and position remained confidential. "Science operates under a social licence - scientists work within limits defined by broader community concerns", said Darren Saunders, associate professor in the school of medical sciences at the University of New South Wales, in an emailed statement. It forms something of a protein doorway which allows HIV to enter a cell, eventually reproduces rapidly and take over the immune system.

A second consent document specified plans for follow-up physical examinations, including HIV tests, for the gene-edited babies until the age of 18 years. He also spoke about his research with organizers of an worldwide conference on gene editing in Hong Kong, the AP reported. He then returned to his homeland China to open a laboratory at Southern University of Science and Technology.

Meanwhile, the NPR reports Jiankui faces an investigation by a local medical ethics board to investigate whether his experiment broke Chinese laws or regulations. These two babies would appear to be the first gene-edited babies. An American scientist, Michael Deem of Rice University, also worked on the project. Gene editing expert Kiran Musunuru of the University of Pennsylvania called it an "unconscionable" experiment and "not morally or ethically defensible".

Chinese scientist He Jiankui reportedly led the gene-editing efforts to make the infants resistant to HIV. In the US, scientists can perform laboratory embryo research only with private funding, not with federal taxpayer money. To date we do not know what the long term effects of CRISPR-modification of human DNA are.

When the girls were still embryos, he used chemical "scissors" to turn off a gene that makes people vulnerable to HIV infection.

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