A Chinese researcher, who claimed to have created the world's first gene-edited babies that are resistant to HIV, has been suspended from any scientific activity amid mounting criticism at home and overseas about the controversial experiment, according to media reports. Many other scientists were astounded to hear his claims with some strongly condemning it and others interested to hear more, especially in terms of gene editing for HIV.
He gave a partial apology in front of a packed auditorium at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, although the contrition seemed to be more for the information about the births coming out before his research had been vetted by the scientific community, rather than for having carried it out.
The resulting gene-edited babies, twins who were born earlier this month, have altered DNA that makes them resistant to HIV.
Professor He said there had been "another potential pregnancy" involving a second couple, but it is unclear whether that pregnancy is still ongoing.
The twin announcements from the leading scientific body and Chinese authorities capped a dramatic week for the genomics world.
The first-of-its-kind experiment, which took advantage of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, came to light in reports published late Sunday by MIT Technology Review and The Associated Press.
The suspension follows global condemnation from scientists who maintain that Dr He's conduct was unethical.
With the rapid development of science and technology, the research and application of science must be more responsible and follow technical and ethical norms, Zeng said.
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There already are some rules that should have prevented what He says he did, said Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin lawyer and bioethicist and a conference organizer.
The conference leaders also called for independent confirmation of He's claim. "When you balance the minimal benefit in terms of protection against HIV, compared to increased chance of dying from a fairly common infection like the flu, I don't think that works out on balance".
Consent: Many of the questions from attendees revolved around the consent process.
The news however did not meet the approval of the scientific community worldwide.
Co-creator of the technology Jennifer Doudna said she felt "horrified" at hearing He's talk, adding she felt deeply concerned for the people affected and questioned whether they really understood the procedure.
When He, 34, walked onstage in an open-collar shirt carrying a tan briefcase, it was clear this would be no ordinary conference presentation. Lovell-Badge says he does not think He was aiming for genetic enhancement when editing the girls' genes, however. Deem said he was in China when the participants agreed to the trial, and that they were aware of the risks.
A source confirmed to Al Jazeera that He had returned to Shenzhen, although repeated calls to his mobile went unanswered and several messages sent to the phone were read with no response. He said he had submitted his research to a scientific journal for review and had not expected to be presenting it at the conference.
China's science and technology vice minister, Xu Nanping, described He's behavior as "shocking and unacceptable" in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.