Scientist Who Gene-Edited Babies Will Face China’s Wrath

Grace Carr | Reporter

Chinese authorities are investigating and using force to reprimand the scientist who allegedly conducted a gene-editing experiment on newborns without the permission of the government.

Chinese officials accused scientist He Jiankui of illegal experimentation and forging documents so that he could fraudulently pass an ethics review, enabling him to get away with the experimental trial that the government would have otherwise barred him from performing, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

“[He] will be transferred to public security authorities,” according to the authorities, the WSJ reported. He will also be “severely dealt with according to the law,” according to Chinese officials.

China‘s science ministry condemned He’s experiment, saying Monday that it “resolutely opposed” his actions, according to the Associated Press. The ministry also vowed to better protect the health system from being tampered with in the future by forgery or other fraudulent means.

The ministry will  “improve relevant laws and regulations and improve the scientific research ethics review system,” AP reported.

Sanctions against the scientists come after He claimed in late November that he had created gene-edited babies immune to HIV, according to The Associated Press. He told AP that he edited two embryos implanted with HIV positive sperm with the CRISPR-cas9 tool. He used the tool to removed the CCR5 gene which would have otherwise caused the babies to contract HIV.

A nurse gives an infected patient medicine as she lies in her bed at the HIV/AIDS ward of Beijing YouAn Hospital December 1, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray

CRISPR-cas9 has been used to remove fatal disease-causing genes in adults, but not to edit genes in babies that will be inheritable by their offspring.

He has defended his experiment, saying that his work aims to stop children from inheriting a harmful disease. He has not spoken to the unintended effects that could arise from editing genes that will be passed on and affect a large gene pool.

HIV infected children at the Fuyang AIDS Orphan Salvation Association in Fuyang, Anhui province June 1, 2014. The orphans, aged between nine and 14, have been living in the orphanage for between five and nine years. REUTERS/Stringer

He studied at both Rice and Stanford Universities in the U.S. and now works at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China. The university said Monday that it will fire He, according to AP. (RELATED: Scientists Create First Genetically Engineered Human Embryos In US)

Rice University has also launched an investigation into Dr. Michael Deem for allegedly cooperating with He during the experiment.

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