"Four cell embryo" by Nina Sesina / CC BY-SA 4.0

Genome-edited baby claim provokes international outcry

Nov 26, 2018

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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One comment on “Genome-edited baby claim provokes international outcry”

  • In the words of the philospher Julian Baggini:

    … when it comes to almost everything about human beings … it is generally agreed that there is no simple ‘gene for’ anything.  Almost all inherited features or traits are the products of complex interactions of numerous genes

    Nature, in its piece, also raises a red flag:

    The scientist’s claims have not been verified through independent genome testing, nor published in a peer-reviewed journal

    To be clear, I am no geneticist.  You don’t need science training to to see through this nonsense – you need media education.

    Which begs the question: Why did Nature publish at all?

    My best guess: To warn those who know that the media do not automatically deliver with veracity.


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