China halts activities involved with baby gene editing: Report

Representative Image. Photograph:( DNA )

WION Web Team Beijing, China Nov 29, 2018, 05.06 PM (IST)

China today ordered a halt to activities of people involved in baby gene editing, state-run CCTV channel reported today.

The Chinese government had opened an investigation after a scientist He Jiankui claimed that he altered the genes of twin girls to create the first gene-edited babies.

He Jiankui had said that the gene editing helped "protect" the babies from future infection from HIV and another virus including AIDS.

However, Chinese scientists condemned Jiankui experiment calling it "crazy" and "unethical".

"Pandoras box has been opened. We still might have a glimmer of hope to close it before it's too late," said the letter written in Mandarin and signed by about 120 scientists.

China's National Health Commission said it was "highly concerned" as it directed health officials to investigate the matter.

The scientist had allegedly used the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the genes of human embryos which allows a scientist to cut-and-paste DNA in order to fix diseases which might occur in the future, a move which has deep ethical and moral ramifications.

The Chinese hospital linked to a controversial experiment denied its involvment in the experiment and asked the police to investigate.

"We have always firmly opposed the development of genetic experiments that violate human ethics and morality," the hospital said.

Southern University of Science and Technology where Jiankui also distanced itself from his work, saying: "This research work was carried out by Professor He Jiankui outside of the school."

The University said the scientist was on unpaid leave since February and his research was a "serious violation of academic ethics and norms".

Jiankui's gene-editing operation is illegal under Chinese law.