Modifying genes in babies, Chinese scientists arrestedA breakthrough in science indeed. But, instead of fame, the scientists were awarded jail term. A Chinese scientist, who succeeded in creating the world’s first “gene-edited” babies, was sentenced to 3-year imprisonment and a US$430,000 fine.
Reported on Monday by Xinhua, He Jiankui, together with his partners: Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, were charged guilty by Shenzhen Nanshan District People's Court for their illicit scientific experiment involving human reproduction. The experiment resulted in the birth of three gene-edited babies.
Furthermore, the court found out that the motive of He and friends was impure. Pursuing personal fame and fortune, since 2016, He had realized the economic potential of the upcoming reproduction experiment. The scientist even evaded supervision and recruited Zhang and Qin privately.
In 2018, He, an associate professor in the Department of Biology of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen shocked the world when he announced the birth of a gene-edited twin, Lulu & Nana, whose genes were modified using CRISPR-Cas9 tool. The “Chinese Frankenstein” claimed that the twins are immune to HIV.
Proud of the result, He unveiled that a second woman was pregnant for the next experiment.
However, many of his peers said that He’s experiment was unethical, “monstrous”, and a “huge blow” against the Chinese biomedical research. Many doubted how He obtained the consent of the parents and the transparency of the gene-editing process.
Different from He, Zhang was sentenced to two-year imprisonment and a US$143,000 fine, while Qin was given a one-year suspended sentence, six-month imprisonment, and a US$71,600 fine. But, all three of them are banned from using human-assisted reproductive technology services for life.
While most of the countries ban gene-editing without strict regulation, China invested heavily in gene-editing technology. In 2015, China became the first to modify nonviable human embryos using the tech, and in 2016, it had become the first to use the CRISPR-Cas9 in humans.