A Chinese scientist has claimed to created the world's first gene-edited human babies, shocking the scientific community across the globe. The twin girls were born in China this month, and their DNA - as per the Chinese scientist - was edited using a technology, which allows rewriting the very blueprints of life.
However, the research work has attracted huge criticism from the scientific communities in China as well as from around the world, forcing the Chinese government to order an investigation into the alleged delivery of the gene-edited babies.
In an online video posted on YouTube, He Jiankui of Shenzhen - the scientist behind the controversial research work - revealed that he edited embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with only one pregnancy resulting so far.
According to He Jiankui, the goal of his work was not to prevent an inherited disease in babies, but to bestow them with a trait to resist any possible future infection with HIV.
"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," Jiankui told the AP.
He Jiankui studied at Stanford and Rice universities in the United States. Later, he returned to China and opened a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen. He also owns two genetics companies, according to AP.
So far, Jiankui has not submitted the details of his research to the scientific community for peer review. He is expected to present his findings on Wednesday at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong.
Scientists believe Jiankui used CRISPR technology to perform the gene editing in human embryo. The technology enables scientists to cut an arbitrary DNA sequence in genomes. The body cells interpret the break in DNA sequence as damage and then try to repair it. It may result in an inexact repair, deletion of some individual base pairs within the targeted DNA sequence, or disabling of the targeted gene.
He Jiankui says he used seven volunteer couples in which the male partner suffered from an HIV infection. He then targeted CCR5 to edit the genes in embryos created through IVF technique.
Scientific communities have strongly condemned He's work. In an open letter, one hundred Chinese scientists described He's work as 'crazy.'
Scientists believe it is too early to use CRISPR technology to address HIV infection in humans. US laws don't allow using CSIPR except for lab research.
"This is far too premature," said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California.
"We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It's a big deal."
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