China started an investigation after the birth of genetically modified babies


China began an investigation on Monday following the announcement of a Chinese researcher who claimed to have In vitro fertilization with modified genes who gave birth to twins resistant to the AIDS virus, an experience considered "dangerous" and "irresponsible". He Jiankui, professor at the University of Shenzhen, in the south of China, posted on YouTube a video announcing the birth a few weeks ago of two twins whose DNA It has been modified to be resistant to the AIDS virus. He says the father is HIV positive.

After Chinese scientists and institutions received this announcement with widespread criticism, China's National Health Commission ordered an "immediate investigation" in this case, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua. The researcher, who graduated from Stanford, California, and is responsible for a genome laboratory in Shenzhen, explained that he used the Crispr-Cas9 technique called "genetic scissors", which allows removing and replacing undesirable parts of the genome, such as fix a failure on a computer.

The babies, called "Lula" and "Nana", were born from the in vitro fertilization of a modified embryo before being implanted in the mother's womb. "Soon after injecting her husband's sperm into the void, an embryo injected a Crispr-Cas9 protein responsible for modifying a gene to protect girls from future HIV infection," explained He Jiankui.

An unverified experiment

Modifying a DNA genetically can serve to prevent disease, but this practice is problematic, as genetic modifications will be inherited by the new generations and may involve a new form of eugenics. The MIT Technology Review recalled that "technology has an ethical responsibility."

The announcement of this medical experiment came on the eve of the commencement of a conference of world-class genomics experts in Hong Kong, during which the Chinese researcher must present his results in detail. However, after the criticism received, his intervention in this genetics congress is not guaranteed. This self-proclaimed medical experiment was not independently verified. The Chinese team did not publish their findings in a scientific journal.

Practice "very problematic"

After the announcement, several Chinese scientists and institutions criticized this experiment. The university where he works told me that he stopped receiving his salary since February and considered that fertilization with modified genes represented "a violation of the academy's ethical standards and standards."

"This research was done outside the university's structure," the University of Southern Science and Technology said in a statement on Monday. Hundred Chinese scientists also issued a joint statement criticizing the experiment and demanding that legislation on IVF be changed.

This medical experiment was known for some time, but no scientist dared to use it because "no one can predict the uncertain impact of these genetic modifications," criticizes this group of scientists who believe they have opened "a Pandora's box."

In addition, international researchers have criticized the announcement through a video on YouTube. "Announcing these results in a YouTube video is a very problematic scientific practice," said Nicholas Evans, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in the United States, who works on biotechnology issues. "This moves away from the control processes on which many scientific advances lie, such as peer review," he added, questioned by AFP.

Whether or not it is announced, the issue raises "serious ethical concerns," says Sarah Chan of the University of Edinburgh, quoted by the Science Media Center. "Making such allegations, apparently to deliberately seek maximum controversy … is irresponsible," he added. He Jiankui did not immediately answer questions from AFP.


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