The Chinese scientist who said that he was instrumental in the birth of the world’s first genetically edited babies is missing.
Missing After Presenting Controversial Work At Hong Kong Summit
The whereabout of He Jiankui are unknown since last Wednesday after he presented his controversial experiment at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong.
Local reports suggested that Chinese authorities placed the scientist under house arrest. China’s government earlier ordered to stop He’s work with Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping describing the project as illegal and unacceptable.
“The Ministry of Science and Technology has requested the relevant units to suspend the scientific and technological activities of the relevant personnel,” Xu said.
“The next step of the Ministry of Science and Technology will, on the basis of comprehensive and objective investigations, be investigated and dealt with in accordance with the law.”
On Leave Since February
The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, where He works as associate professor, however, said that the researcher is not detained.
“Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are,” a university spokesperson said.
The spokesperson, however, did not provide further details saying that the institution could not answer questions regarding the matter at this time.
The university, which also conducted a probe into the research, is distancing itself from He’s work. The institution said that He has been on leave since February and that it has no knowledge of his research.
Controversial Gene-Editing Experiment
He set off a storm of controversy after he announced that he used the gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9 to make changes to the embryonic genes of twin girls named Lulu and Nana who were born last month. The changes to their DNA made the babies immune to AIDS-causing HIV.
Ethicists and the scientific community raised concern about the project saying that He used a potentially dangerous technology.
While gene editing holds promise for treating certain conditions in those already born, scientists said that using gene editing on eggs, sperm or embryos may have unknown risks. For one, the changes made on the babies can be passed on to their future generations.