The following content is provided by external partners. We can not guarantee that it is suitable for the visually or hearing impaired.
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – More than 100 scientists, most of them in China, have been condemned as "crazy" and unethical altering human genes after a geneticist claimed that he had changed the genes of twin girls to create the first gene-edited babies.
In an open letter circulating online, scientists said the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risking, unjustifiable and harmed the reputation and development of the biomedical community in China.
In videos posted online, scientist He Jiankui defended what he claimed to have achieved, saying he had performed the embryonic gene editing to help protect babies born this month from HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS.
"The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only." Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy, "the scientists said in their letter, a copy of which was posted by the Chinese news website The Paper.
"We still have a glimmer of hope to close it before it's too late," the approximately 120 scientists said in the Chinese-language letter.
Yang Zhengang, and Fudan University professor, told Reuters he signed the letter because gen editing was "very dangerous."
He, who is due to speak at a summit on human genome editing at the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The Southern University of Science and Technology, where he holds an associate professorship, said he had been unaware of the research project and that he had been on leave without pay since February.
China's National Health Commission said on Monday it was "highly concerned" and had ordered provincial health officials to "immediately investigate and clarify the matter".
The government's medical ethics committee in the city of Shenzhen, in southern China, said it was investigating the case, as was the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, and the state media outlet.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut-and-paste DNA, raising hope for genetic fixes for disease. However, there are also concerns about its safety and ethics.
(Graphic explaining the Crispr DNA editing technique, https://tmsnrt.rs/2ReKG1R)
In a statement on Monday he had just been informed of He's work on the genes of the twin girls.
"Our goal is to help ensure that human genome editing research is pursued responsibly," the committee said.
(Reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai, Additional reporting by Holly Chik and Anne Mare Roantree in Hong Kong, Editing by Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel)