Conflicts and doubts, this is the reaction of the announcement that a Chinese scientist would create the first genetically modified babies in the world to be resistant to certain diseases using the technique of genetic modification CRISPR.
Problems began when specialized publications, such as the American magazine MIT Technology Review, echoed the study of scientist He Jiankui, who yesterday began broadcasting videos on Youtube. He claims to have changed the genes of the twins.
According to the Chinese researcher, the girls Lulu and Nana were born a few weeks ago thanks to in vitro fertilization with genetic modification technology "It will prevent them from becoming infected with HIV".
In these videos, he claims to have used the CRISPR / Cas9 technique and justified the experiment indicating the genetic modification "It is not about destroying genetic diseases," but "giving girls a natural ability to resist a possible future HIV infection."
To achieve your goal, I argue that I have "turned off" the CCR5 gene, that it forms a protein that allows HIV to enter a cell and in practice implies DNA improvement.
"I understand that my work is controversial, but I think families need this technology and I'm ready to accept criticism of them," he says in one of the videos.
However, the South Science and Technology University of Shenzhen City He challenged his professor today in a statement and stressed that he did not even know about this project.
The institution said it was "deeply shocked by the case" and urged He on a leave from February this year to come as soon as possible to explain.
"The university will convene international experts to investigate this incident, which is a serious violation of ethical and academic standards", said the institution of the project, which also raised doubts about its credibility, as it has not been published in any scientific journal so far.
For its part, the Chinese press has admitted today that the study has sparked controversy between academic circles and the public throughout the country.
The Chinese newspaper is concerned "for ethical reasons and for its effectiveness", and reveals this parents of both babies are people with HIV, citing Bai Hua, head of Baihualin, a non-governmental organization dealing with people with this disease,
Meanwhile, more than 120 academics from the Chinese scientific community said in a statement published on Chinese Twitter equivalent, Sina Weibo, that "any attempt" to make changes to human embryos through genetic modification is "mad", and that the birth of these babies carries "high risk".
"The government needs to take swift legislative measures to rigorously monitor such research," the Chinese scientists added.
The controversy comes one day before researchers in the field begin an important meeting to modify the genome to be held from November 27 to 29 in Hong Kong.
Worldwide, Nature magazine also joined the debate today and in an article it claims the message is provoked "Indignation" between the international scientific community and, if true, "This will represent a significant leap in the use of human genome modification."
"Premature, Dangerous and Irresponsible" Joyce Harper, a researcher at the University College London, told this publication.
"This experiment reveals normal and healthy children risks without the real benefit they need," the magazine said.
Nature points out that this type of instrument has been used so far only to study its benefits in eliminating disease-causing mutations, and adds that the scientific community "has long wanted" the creation of ethical guidelines for a long time to come up with such a case.
In 2016, a group of Chinese scientists are becoming pioneers in the use of CRISPR genetic modification technology in humans, especially in lung cancer patients, as reported in the journal Nature.
Scientists in the UK, however, found that CRISPR gene editing technology could cause more cell damage than it was supposed, according to a study published this year by the same journal.