A Chinese researcher claims to have modified the DNA of twins born this November, reveals in an exclusive material the Associated Press.
The scientist, named He Jiankui, claims to have altered the embryos of several couples during several fertility treatments. With his procedure, the man tried to get the ability to resist a future infection with HIV , something that few individuals have naturally.
The parents of the twins preferred not to be identified or interviewed; neither does AP report where they live or where the experiment was carried out. Chinese law authorizes genetic editing works, but prohibits cloning.
He Jiankui unveiled his work on Monday to one of the organizers of an international conference on genetic publishing that will begin on Tuesday in Hong Kong, and also revealed some data in exclusive interviews with AP. But the researcher’s claims have not been officially confirmed.
If the information about the experiment is true, it would be an important scientific step that has profound ethical implications . DNA modification can happen to future generations and there is a risk that other genes will be damaged . Many traditional scientists consider this activity dangerous, and some even denounce that it is about experimentation on human beings.
According to Professor Kiran Musunuru, genetic editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania (USA), the work is “inconceivable . ” It is an “experiment with human beings that is not morally or ethically justifiable,” he said.
“It’s too early, ” said Professor Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps [Genetic] Translation Institute (California, USA). “We are dealing with the operating instructions of a human being, which is very important,” he said.
However, He Jiankui defends what has been done. “I feel a strong responsibility that is not related only to doing something for the first time, but also to offer an example, ” the scientist told AP. “The society will decide what to do next” in relation to prohibiting or not the genetic edition of human beings, he predicted.
Yolonda Kerr is a general assignment reporter at The Grand Newsstand. She has covered sports, entertainment and many other beats in her journalism career, and has lived in San Francisco for more than 8 years. Yolonda has appeared periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) NPR, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com.