The Chinese scientist who claims to have edited baby DNA is downplaying reports that he is under house arrest. Here's a timeline of the controversy.
- Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims to have made the first genetically edited babies in the world using CRISPR technology.
- Many scientists, ethicists, and government officials have criticized He, calling his research unethical and dangerous.
- After presenting his findings at an international summit in November 2018, He vanished from public view until reports claimed he was being detained at a university guesthouse.
- On January 7, The Telegraph reported that He may face the death penalty. Since then, new reports have quoted scientists saying He told them he is well and unharmed.
In November 2018, a Chinese scientist claimed he had made the first genetically-edited babies in the world, causing sharp criticism from other scientists, ethicists, and government officials.The scientist, He Jiankui, used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-cas9, which is considered risky because it can inadvertently change a large portion of a person's DNA and have unintended consequences.Advertisement
He, who worked on the experiment with US scientist Michael Deem, said he edited a gene called CCR5. The gene forms a "doorway" that allows HIV to enter cells, and turning it off makes people resistant to being infected in the future.
Even if everything went according to plan, the babies could be at greater risk of future health problems. The Associated Press reported that people without a regular CCR5 gene are more likely to catch the West Nile virus and die from the flu.Read more: Bill Gates says it would be a 'tragedy' to pass up a controversial, revolutionary gene-editing technology
reported that he has been detained and may face the death penalty, though the scientist has reportedly said he is fine. Advertisement
Take a look at this timeline explaining the controversy surrounding He's research.
On November 26, He told an organizer of an international genome editing conference that he had altered the DNA of two baby girls. The Chinese scientist claimed he had altered the embryos for seven different couples, though only one person was pregnant as of November.
He described his research at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing on November 28 in Hong Kong. He said he felt "proud" and noted that a third gene-edited baby could be born as a result of his work.Advertisement
China said on November 29 that it had suspended He's work, adding that his behavior seemed to violate Chinese law.
Over the weekend of December 1 and 2, a local news outlet reported that He had been apprehended by the university and brought back to Shenzhen.Advertisement
The university denied on December 3 that it had detained He, but the scientist was not seen in public for about a month after the summit.
He was spotted on the balcony of a university guesthouse in Shenzhen on December 26. Two days later, The New York Times reported that about a dozen guards were standing outside the apartment.Advertisement
On January 7, The Telegraph reported that He could face the death penalty. A Beijing-based lawyer, however, says this is very unlikely.
Two days later, STAT reported that He has been communicating with Lovell-Badge and another scientist who attended the summit. He has read Western news reports about himself and said he is doing well, downplaying claims that he is under house arrest and facing the death penalty.Advertisement
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