Shenzhen, China – China suspended He Jiankui – a scientist who claims to have made the world's first-ever baby, and now appears to be punished after publicly revealing research into a scientific community convicted of irresponsibility.
His work was "extremely hideous in nature," said Xi Nanping, vice president of the Science and Technology Department, Thursday for the Xinhua News Agency.
Xi called the genetic engineering of twin DNA to prevent the development of scientific ethics of HIV-infected and added that genetic modification of human embryos for reproduction purposes was "expressly forbidden" in China.
He admitted at a gene modification conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday already started another pregnancy, though it was too early to see whether he would be full-time.
|The embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 ssRNA in the sperm injection microscope in the Shenzhen lab [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
Al Jazeera source confirmed that he returned to Shenzhen, although repeated calls to his cell failed, and several messages sent to his phone were read unanswered.
David Cyranoski of Nature magazine published in the social media that he was in the southern city and was ready to "fully co-operate with all questions" about his work.
"It is definitely"
The scientist is likely to face an obstacle to questions from the institutions in Shenzhen and also from the Ministry of Science and Technology. The Chinese National Health Commission said its activities would be investigated and any minority "resolutely resolves" according to Xinhua.
It is unclear what punishment he can face because the law in China is unclear in enforcing, according to Qiu Renzong, Emeritus Professor of the Philosophical Institute and Director of the Center for Applied Ethics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Research has sent shock waves through the international scientific community, many of which have raised concerns about the lack of validated data and the risk of exposure to healthy embryos by genetic modification. Scientists have long been concerned about the implications of such genetic engineering for humanity.
R Alta Charo, professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said that if he did a lawsuit in the United States "would be contrary to public law" and include "punishments [that] are both civilian and criminal "due to the approval that is required through the Food and Drug Administration for human cell studies and therapy where the cells are fed into gestation.
Involvement of the police?
Qiu recorded three scientists in Hunan province in 2012 who were detained and then released along with three officials who approved the attempts of genetically modified rice enriched with vitamin A for pupils without their consent.
"The three scientists were disciplined, they were released from their position, and they could not apply for grants for a certain time, so [He’s case] it may be similar, "Qiu Al Jazeera said. I do not think the police could get involved, but the ministry will discipline him. "
He said in a video released on Sunday – the same day that the world learned about childbirth – that he had used CRISPR-cas9 for embryo editing to eliminate the possibility that children would have HIV from their father who is infected with the virus.
An anthropologist, Eben Kirksey, remarked that CRISPR has become an enchanting word about HIV because of the promise that "you just need to get treatment once." But he added that there are many other promising therapies for HIV treatment, and he did not think many people from the HIV research community "gave much hope" in genetic editing.
|Researcher Zhou Xiaoqin, left, reads the molecules Cas9 and PCSK9 sgRNA into a fine-glass pipette in He Jiankui's laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
Prior to the second international summit on the adaptation of the human genome in Hong Kong, he apologized partly to the apologetic auditorium, although it seemed that the excitement was more of information about the births that had come out before his research was examined by the scientific community rather than its implementation.
The scientist told delegates that he was "proud of his work" and added that if the same situation happened and it was his child, "try it first".
Most other scientists believed it was too soon before we got it, given the enormous ethical issues that arise from "editing" – like Lulu and Nana, the names he gave to the girls – and "untried" side by side.
"Would not it be useful to try to define a global ethical code of conduct, at least minimal consent and what is research and what is the standard?" Barbel Friedrich, director of the Alfred Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald, asked. "What we heard this morning was a violation of the law he admitted, but what we need is a global rule."
Institutions deny knowledge
Across the border in Shenzhen, the institutions give themselves away.
The Health and Family Planning Commission of Shenzhen has led the medical committee of the city to investigate its activities.
The Southern University of Science and Technology, where he is a professor and is said to have conducted research without full knowledge of the university, closed his laboratories and suspended it until the investigation. A website about genome research related to his work now seems inaccessible.
|The researcher will modify the microtiter plate containing embryos that were injected with Cas9 and PCSK9 sgRNA in the Shenzhen lab [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
When Al-Jazeera visited a lab of researchers located in the vast area of the university in northern Shenzhen, security officers refused to enter and complained to the media seeking to visit the site. School communication staff did not respond to requests to discuss research activities.
A police van was parked on the main gate across the road, its blue and red lights blinking.
A woman and a children's hospital in Shenzhen Harmonicare, where fertilization has allegedly occurred, is now denied involvement in Jesus' work and says she believes that the signature on the document approving the experiment was faded. Attempts to address hospital officials for further explanation were unsuccessful.
"We do not know yet whether it was made," Qiu told the newspaper. "Some scientists, from other motives, these young scientists want to make a lot of money."