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China orders stop to human gene editing work

Qin Jinzhou, an embryologist who worked with He Jiankui, looks at embryos in a lab Oct. 9. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein

China orders stop to human gene editing work

The Chinese government on Thursday ordered researcher He Jiankui of Shenzhen to halt his experiments after he told a scientific conference in Hong Kong the day before that he altered the DNA of embryos that resulted in the birth of twin girls earlier this month, with another potential pregnancy with an altered embryo underway. His experiments alarm scientists around the world who say it is unsafe and unethical.

Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV that China has ordered an investigation into He’s work but did not mention any specific actions. Nanping also said the ministry opposed He’s efforts and called the experiments illegal and unacceptable.

Other government groups and universities in China are investigating He’s claims to have altered the DNA of the twins to make them resistant to HIV. The leaders of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, where He presented his work, issued a statement Thursday calling his claims “unexpected and deeply disturbing.” The statement said editing heritable DNA in embryos, eggs, or sperm was “irresponsible at this time” and called for an independent assessment. Altering DNA in a human embryo that will be implanted in the womb is banned in many countries, including the United States, because the changes can be inherited and might harm other genes.

He was scheduled to speak again on Thursday but instead left Hong Kong. “I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work,” he said in a statement through a spokesman. “My raw data will be made available for third-party review.”

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is a former assistant editor for WORLD Digital. She is a Patrick Henry College and World Journalism Institute graduate. Rachel resides with her husband in Wheaton, Ill.


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