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Scientist Who Gene-Edited Babies ‘Will Be Dealt With Seriously,’ Chinese Investigators Say

A report by Chinese authorities on Monday alleged that He Jiankui violated ethics and research integrity in editing the DNA of human babies.

by Sarah Emerson
Jan 22 2019, 7:07pm

Chinese geneticist He Jiankui. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A Chinese scientist who shockingly claimed to have created the first gene-edited babies last year “seriously violated ethics” and has been fired from his university post, Chinese investigators told state media according to the New York Times.

The behavior of He Jiankui volated “scientific research integrity and relevant state regulations causing adverse effects at home and abroad,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

He and those involved “will be dealt with seriously according to the law,” it continued.

The Shenzhen-based scientist disappeared from the public eye in December, when Chinese authorities began to probe his research. He had allegedly used CRISPR technology to edit the DNA of human embryos, resulting in the birth of twin girls in November with another pregnancy on the way. According to He, their genomes had been altered to make them resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

Monday’s report claimed that He independently raised funding in 2016 to skirt oversight and “in pursuit of personal fame and fortune.” Chinese investigators also alleged that he forged an ethical review and disregarded safety guidelines, reported the Associated Press.

He’s research has not been peer-reviewed, and the identities of the seven couples who participated in the trial—wherein the men were HIV-positive—are still unknown.

He was widely criticized by other geneticists who called the experiment dangerous and unethical. He, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology, defended himself at a genome summit in Hong Kong in November, saying he was “proud” of his work. But in December, the New York Times confirmed rumors that He was under house arrest at the same time as authorities were conducting their investigation.

The Southern University of Science and Technology also announced on Monday the cancellation of He’s teaching contract and research. He had been on unpaid leave at the school since February 2018.

The report didn’t mention which laws He had violated, or what punishment the scientist may face. The New York Times noted, however, that He’s case is being passed to “public security organs” which could bring about criminal charges.