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HONG KONG (CBSMiami/AP) — A Chinese scientist claims he has carried out genetic editing on human embryos. The controversial announcement would be a world’s first, raising safety and ethics concerns. Now, the University where this scientist worked is investigating.
According to the Associated Press, the babies were twin girls born this month whose DNA Dr. He Jiankui said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.
“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example. How to perform things like this, consider morality of the society and consider its impact to the public,” Dr. Jiankui told AP.
Dr. Jiankui claims he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. One resulted in the birth of the twin girls.
The gene editing was done using CRISPR, a tool that allows scientists to cut DNA apart to disable or fix a certain gene.
The goal was to change a gene to prevent HIV infection.
This kind of gene editing is banned in the US because changes can be passed to future generations and could harm other genes.
There are also concerns it could lead to “designer babies”, allowing parents to choose traits like hair, eye or skin color.
Many mainstream scientists think it’s too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation and unethical.
“We still have a lot of work to do to prove and establish the procedure is actually safe. I would say no babies should be born at this time, following the use of this technology,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru from the University of Pennsylvania.
There has been no independent verification of the claims, and they have not been published in a medical journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.
The University where the researcher had worked is calling for an investigation, saying he has been on unpaid leave and officials were unaware of the research project and its nature. China outlaws human cloning but not specifically gene editing.
The scientist also told the AP that the parents involved in the experiments do not want to be identified and he would not say where he conducted this work.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)