China Vows to 'Seriously Investigate' Genetically Altered Baby Claim

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Designer babies might be here sooner than anyone reckoned.

The process involved in editing the twin girls' DNA, as described, began as a regular In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process wherein the mother's eggs were fertilized by the father's sperm to create an embryo in a laboratory environment.

Baltimore stressed he was speaking only on behalf of himself, adding that safety issues and "broad societal consensus" have not yet been worked out on the question of editing human embryos.

"Grossly premature and deeply unethical", is how noted US bioethicist Henry Greely of Stanford University characterized the claim.

He said gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In its statement, the university said it was unaware of He's project or its nature, and noted that the experiment was not conducted on its campus. He aimed to mimic a natural mutation which confers resistance to HIV. Mitalipov added. "He's testing his hypothesis on babies". Scientists talked about their research plans years in advance with many colleagues, to get feedback before they set out.

Yang Zhengang, a Fudan University professor, said he signed the letter because gene editing was "very dangerous". He says it is totally inappropriate to use gene editing to select hair or eye color, or to boost IQ; such a use, he says in the video, "is not what a loving parent does".

She also called for public and transparent discussion of the technology so "that this news not detract from the many important clinical efforts to use CRISPR technology to treat and cure disease in adults and in children".

Dr. Matthew Porteus, a genetics researcher at Stanford University, where He did postdoctoral research, said He told him in February that he meant to try human gene editing. But unlike Monday's announcement, none of those experiments would alter DNA in a way that patients would pass to their own children.

AP via The Canadian Press Fred Gmitter, a geneticist at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center, holds citrus seedlings that are used for gene editing research at the University of Florida. Disabling this single gene helps to "shut the doorway" through which HIV can enter and infect cells, although it's worth noting that the twins were born healthy and not infected with HIV. He said they will likely remain anonymous due to laws in China around revealing the identity of people with HIV.

'An Experiment on Human Beings': Outrage as Chinese Researcher Claims to Change Babies' DNA
China Vows to 'Seriously Investigate' Genetically Altered Baby Claim

Editing the genes of embryos is banned in many countries because DNA changes passed to future generations could have unanticipated effects on the entire gene pool.

INFORMED CONSENT He, who said he was against gene enhancement, said eight couples were initially enrolled for his study while one dropped out.

He's academic board said He had "seriously violated academic ethics and norms". "There are still technical hurdles we have to solve", he said.

No independent outsiders know yet, which is partly why scientists are so disturbed.

Sohnee Ahmed, president of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors, said that if the Chinese scientist's claim is true, the birth of the word's first genetically altered babies has run way ahead of both scientific maturity and ethical considerations.

Midway during He's talk, Nobel laureate David Baltimore said the study resulting in the birth of two girls showed "there has been a failure of self-regulation in the scientific community".

The biggest concern: That precision, or lack of it.

At present the risks involved in genetically editing an embryo are huge, with off-target mutations, capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer.