Chinese scientist who genetically modified babies is investigated by university where he works



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The scientist Chinese He Jiankui said on Monday that he had undergone in vitro fertilization with modified genes that gave birth to AIDS-resistant twins, an advertisement that led to his suspension from the university where he works and ethical criticism for an act considered "dangerous" and "irresponsible".

The researcher, who was trained at Stanford in the United States and heads a specialized genome laboratory in Shenzhen, said he used the technique Crispr-Cas9, called "genetic scissors", which allows removing and replacing unwanted parts of the genome, as a fault is corrected in a computer.

The babies, called "Lula" and "Nana", were born by in vitro fertilization of a modified embryo before being implanted in the mother's uterus.

Genetically modifying a DNA can serve to avoid diseases, but this practice is problematic since genetic modifications will be inherited by the new generations.

The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUST) University of Shenzhen has already announced that it He Jiankui and will investigate whether his experiment was against ethical and academic regulations, as reported by the MIT Technology Review.

The university reported that He stopped receiving his salary since February and considered that fertilization with modified genes represented "a breach of the ethical criteria of the academy and its norms."

The announcement of this medical experiment came on the eve of the start of a conference of global genome experts in Hong Kong during which the Chinese researcher has to present their results in detail.

However, after the criticisms received, his intervention in this genetics congress is not assured.

This self-proclaimed medical experiment was not independently verified. The Chinese team did not publish its results in a scientific journal.

A "very problematic" experiment

After the announcement, many Chinese scientists and institutions criticized this experiment. One hundred of their Chinese colleagues issued a joint statement criticizing the experiment and called for changes in legislation on in vitro fertilization.

In addition, international researchers criticized that the ad was made through a video on YouTube

"Announcing those results in a video on YouTube is a very problematic scientific practice," said Nicholas Evans, a professor of philosophy at Massachusetts Lowell University in the United States who works on bioethics.

"This removes the control processes on which many scientific advances, such as peer review, rest," 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 claims, apparently to deliberately seek maximum controversy … is irresponsible," he added.

He Jiankui did not respond immediately to the questions of AFP.

With information from AFP

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