By David Cyranoski
A Chinese scientist claims that he has helped make the world’s first genome-edited babies — twin girls who were born this month. The announcement has provoked shock, and some outrage, among scientists around the world.
He Jiankui, a genome-editing researcher from the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, says that he implanted into a woman an embryo that had been edited to disable the genetic pathway that allows a cell to be infected with HIV.
In a video posted to YouTube, He says the girls are healthy and now at home with their parents. Genome sequencing of their DNA has shown that the editing worked, and only altered the gene they targeted, he says.
The scientist’s claims have not been verified through independent genome testing or published in a peer-reviewed journal. But, if true, the birth would represent a significant — and controversial — leap in the use of genome-editing. So far these tools have only be used in embryos for research, often to investigate the benefit of using them to eliminate disease-causing mutations from the human germline. But reports of off-target effects in some studies have raised significant safety concerns.
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