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China halts activities of baby gene-editing scientist

China halts activities of baby gene-editing scientist

BEIJING: A Chinese scientist who stoked criticism over his claim that he had created the world’s first genetically-edited babies faced mounting pressure on Thursday as China ordered a halt to his scientific activities and warned he may have broken the law.

China’s National Health Commission has ordered an investigation into He Jiankui’s experiment, which was condemned by the scientific community in China and abroad.

Chinese science and technology vice minister Xu Nanping said the “gene-edited babies incident as reported by media blatantly violated our country’s relevant laws and regulations”.

The claims were “shocking and unacceptable” and breached “the bottom line of morality and ethics that the academic community adheres to”, he told CCTV.

The science and technology ministry “firmly opposes” the experiment and “has already demanded that the relevant organisation suspend the scientific activities of relevant personnel,” Xu added.

The experiment, which was led by He, claims to have successfully altered the DNA of twin girls born a few weeks ago to prevent them from contracting HIV.

The scientist had told a packed biomedical conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday he was “proud” to have successfully altered the DNA of the twins.

But details of the experiment, which has not been independently verified, triggered an immediate backlash and He said the trial had been “paused”.

He was supposed to speak at the conference again on Thursday, but he disappeared from the schedule.

David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and chairman of the organising committee, told reporters it was He’s decision not to attend.

The founder of an HIV support group reported to be based in Beijing said that he regretted introducing families to He for the trial, according to Hong Kong media.

Bai Hua, the group’s head, said he had introduced 50 families to He’s team.

“In the beginning we did not understand what it was they were really doing.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018

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