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Chinese Scientist Faces Firestorm Over Genetic Editing

November 28, 2018

A Chinese researcher has publicly defended his claim he has created the world's first genetically-edited babies.

He Jiankui addressed a crowd of fellow scientists Wednesday at a biomedical conference in Hong Kong, two days after he posted a video online claiming to have used a gene-editing technology dubbed CRISPR to alter the DNA of twin girls born to an HIV-positive father to prevent them from contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. He said he conducted his research in secret. His work has not been independently verified, and Dr. He has not submitted his report to any scientific journals where it could be examined by experts. But he told his colleagues that he felt "proud...proudest" of his achievement.

His claims have set off a firestorm of skepticism and criticism. The Southern University of Science and Technology, the university in the southern Chinese city in Shenzhen that employs him, says he has been on unpaid leave since February. The school denounced his research for violating "academic ethics and codes of conduct," and the Chinese government is urging local authorities to launch an investigation into He's work.

Shortly after He's speech before the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, American biologist David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and a leader of the summit, called Dr. He's work "irresponsible" and a "failure of self-regulation by the scientific community."

Genetic editing has the potential to remove inherited diseases from the gene pool, but scientists and ethicists worry it could be used to create so-called "designer babies." They also worry any genetic changes could lead to other genes being altered in unpredictable ways.

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