Is The CRISPR Baby Controversy The Start Of A Terrifying New Chapter In Gene Editing?


Publish Date:
January 22, 2019
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A Chinese scientist shocked the world in November when he reported — through a well-coordinated media campaign that involved an AP exclusive and YouTube videos — that he’d created the world’s first babies genetically edited with CRISPR: a set of twin girls, with a third CRISPR baby on the way.

Two months later, a Chinese government investigation has found He Jiankui “seriously violated” state laws in pursuit of “personal fame and fortune.” According to a January 21 report from the Xinhua state news agency, he avoided supervision, faked an ethical review, and used potentially unsafe and ineffective gene editing methods on the children.

But some of He’s peers in science, who work on gene editing and ethics, also aren’t happy with the experiment. He broke a scientific taboo to edit out a disease that’s now highly treatable — using a potentially dangerous and unproven technique. Hank Greely, a Stanford law and ethics professor, called the experiment “reckless [because] of a terrible benefit/risk ratio for the baby.” Others have called the experiment “monstrous,” “unconscionable” and “premature,” and 122 Chinese scientists wrote a joint statement denouncing the work.

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