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Chinese scientist claims to have helped make the world’s first genome-edited babies

Gene editing

He Jiankui, a genome-editing researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, claims to have impregnated a woman with embryos that had been edited to disable the genetic pathway HIV uses to infect cells.

The father of the girls is HIV positive but the mother is not, says He in a YouTube video. The twin girls, born this month, have had their DNA sequenced showing that the gene editing have worked and altered only the target gene, he states in the video. He Jiankui used the CRISPR–Cas9 genome-editing tool to disable a gene called CCR5, which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter a cell.

Outrage among scientists

However, the announcement has provoked outrage and strong reactions among scientists around the world. For example they have reacted to the fact that the scientist’s claims have not been verified through independent genome testing, nor published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Years of research is needed to show that meddling with the genome of an embryo is not going to cause harm, says Joyce Harper to Nature, who studies women’s and reproductive health at University College London. “Today’s report of genome editing human embryos for resistance to HIV is premature, dangerous and irresponsible.”

Several scientists now hopes that as a result of this announcement, scientists and policy makers will discuss how to regulate the practice.