More than 100 scientists, most of them in China, have condemned as “crazy” and unethical a geneticist’s claims that he altered the genes of twin girls born this month to create the first gene-edited babies. In an open letter circulating online, the scientists said the use of CRISPR- Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos was risky, unjustified 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 gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Yang Zhengang, a Fudan University professor, was the one who signed the letter because gene editing is “very dangerous.” The Southern University of Science and Technology, where He holds an associate professorship, said it had been unaware of the research project and that He had been on leave without pay since February. China’s National Health Commission said 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. CRISPR- Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut-and-paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for the disease.
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