A Chinese scientist’s claims that he made the world’s first genetically modified babies has drawn outrage from the scientific community.
Scientists gathered at a genome editing conference in Hong Kong called into question the safety and ethics of Professor He Jiankui’s claims that he used gene-editing technology (called CRISPR-Cas 9) to modify the embryonic genes of twin girls born this month to resist HIV infection.
Richard Hynes, a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:
"He didn't answer properly most of the questions. In particular, the questions about why was this worth doing, was there any medical basis for doing it?
While Jennifer Doudna, a co-inventor of the gene editing tool CRISPR, was unhappy with He’s explanation:
"A lot of the questions were very good questions and very relevant to the future of this whole field and not to mention, of course, the people that are directly affected by this. And we did not hear answers to those questions."
In many countries, it is not allowed to implant embryos back into the mother after editing their genes. It’s believed that altering DNA before or during conception is risky because the changes could be inherited or harm other genes.
There is still no independent confirmation of He’s claims or anything published in scientific journals verified by experts.
He refused to answer questions concerning who paid for his work, if he made participants aware of potential risks and why he didn’t reveal anything about his work until after it was done.
Harvard University's Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology David Liu says: "It's an appalling example of what not to do with a new technology that has incredible potential to benefit society."
The Chinese scientist shocked his counterparts even more when he revealed there was another woman pregnant with a gene edited embryo.