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Geneticist broke the laws of nature and of the China

28.11.2018
China, Gene, Science

The author of genetically modified twins He Jiangkui accused of "opening Pandora's box".
The author of the Chinese “experimental genetically modified twins” He Jiankui can be brought to justice. The National Health Commission of China said it would thoroughly verify the legality of its actions. Representatives of the Southern University of Science and Technology of Shenzhen (SUNT), where he worked, said they knew nothing about experiments with the human genome. One of the authors of the CRISPR genome editing methodology, Feng Zhang, called for a moratorium on such actions. In Russia, scientists also conduct similar experiments, but so far they have not been in a hurry to produce genetically modified children.

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The Shenzhen City Medical Ethics Advisory Board announced that it is starting an investigation into He Jiankuya. According to members of the council, the scientist, who had previously stated that he was able to edit the genome of two newborn girls, did not consult with them in any way and “never made reports” corresponding to their standards. University President Chen Shii convened an emergency meeting, which brought together all scientists who had at least an indirect relationship to the project, and announced to them that "SUNT has nothing to do with this." The faculty of biology at SUNT also stated that Mr. He’s research “seriously violated ethical and academic standards.” The National Health Commission of China said it would thoroughly verify the legitimacy of the scientist’s actions.

In the laws of the PRC, unlike many other countries, there is no direct ban on working with the genes of embryos. But the ethical norms developed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health of China prohibit the implantation of genetically modified embryos to women during the in vitro fertilization procedure (children were conceived with it). “These two girls are guinea pigs who will grow up with no idea what risks they are exposed to,” Liu Ying, a scientist at the Institute of Molecular Medicine of Peking University, told the Chinese portal Sina.

Recall, He Jiankui claimed that he removed the CCR5 gene from girls, which provided them with immunity to HIV. In a video message, the scientist called the birth of two healthy children with altered genes "China's historical breakthrough in disease prevention." He pointed out that the father of the girls, who were named Lulu and Nana, was HIV-positive. “Now they will be healthy, and my father has a sense of living and working, he has a goal,” said He Jiankui.

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Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of HIV Infections at Tsinghua University, Zhang Lintsi, in an interview with Sina, said that the consequences of He Jiankuya’s actions were impossible to predict. “Many people are completely confused, including me,” he noted. 122 Chinese scientists wrote an open letter in which they condemned their colleague and called on the government to sharply limit work with human genes. “Pandora’s box is open, but we can still close it before it’s too late,” the scientists write. “It’s just not fair to those Chinese researchers who advocate diligence and innovation based on scientific ethics.”

Social networks in China, meanwhile, are actively discussing what happened. Many recall the quote of the recently deceased astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who opposed the editing of the human genome. “If such supermen appear,“ ordinary ”people who will lose their competition will have political problems,” he warned. “Perhaps“ ordinary ”people will die out or be marginalized. Instead, we will get a new race of creatures that will change themselves faster and faster. ”

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One of the founders of the genetic engineering technology, CRISPR (He Jiankui used it), Feng Zhang, also opposed such experiments. He stated that “with the current state of technology,” he considers it reasonable to introduce “a moratorium on replanting modified embryos. Mr. Feng also pointed out that, by reducing the risk of HIV, two newborn girls "received an increased risk of becoming ill with West Nile fever."

China is one of the most advanced countries in terms of working with human genes. Since 2015, scientists of the country, according to The Wall Street Journal, have edited the genes of 86 people with HIV and cancer. However, there were no cases of birth of children with altered genes prior to the case of He Jiankuem.

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