HONG KONG | China's government ordered a halt Thursday to work by a medical team that claimed to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies, as a group of leading scientists declared that it's still too soon to try to make permanent changes to DNA that can be inherited by future generations. He said his ultimate goal was to alter the babies' genes in a way that would protect them from future HIV infection.
CRISPR, first described in 2012, gives scientists the most precise and effective way to edit the human genome by snipping out offending mutations or genes and either allowing the genome to fix itself or providing researchers with the ability to insert new genetic material to correct disease genes.
Gene editing on humans is banned in the United States, notes the report, because modifying genes and making changes in the DNA could possibly move from one generation to the next and there is an ever-present threat to the health of other genes as well.
He's academic board said He had "seriously violated academic ethics and norms".
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Associate Professor He's research focuses on genome sequencing technology, bioinformatics and genome editing, according to his biography on the summit's website. He told the Associated Press that he edited embryos for seven couples, though only one pregnancy has come to fruition so far. Experts said that this means that twin will not be protected from HIV infection, but rather might have slower disease progression if they did contract the virus (see this week's Comment).
According to the researcher, the DNA of twin girls was altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life. 'This would be a highly irresponsible, unethical and unsafe use of genome editing technology.
An American scientist has also reportedly taken part in the experiment in China. It said He is on unpaid leave until 2021. He also spoke about his research with organizers of an global conference on gene editing in Hong Kong, the AP reported.
The development emerged on Sunday in an article published by industry journal the MIT Technology Review, which referenced medical documents posted online by He's research team at the Southern University of Science and Technology to recruit couples for the experiments.
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He's experiment "crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable", Xu said. The researcher studied at both Rice and Stanford before going back to China and opening up two genetics companies in addition to his lab at Southern University. The major concern is that any edits will be passed on to offspring, thus making their way into the gene pool.
Professor Hawking, who predicted that humans would discover ways to "modify intelligence and instincts" in this century, warned against such genetic modification, voicing the possibility that gene engineering could give rise to a new species of human that might lead to the destruction of the rest of humanity.
More than 100 scientists, mostly in China, said in an open letter on Tuesday the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was unsafe and unjustified.
Musunuru reviewed some of he's scientific data and said he believes the genetic edits on the embryos were incomplete, meaning the girls may not be totally immune to HIV. In the research, says JK, 16 out of 22 embryos were edited. "We only found out about it after it happened, and after the children were born", Baltimore said. The mutation introduced - deleting a portion of a gene called CCR5 - does occur naturally and does make people resistant to HIV.
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