Chinese anger in gene scientists grew as the world awaited evidence, East Asia News & Top Stories



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SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG) – Chinese critics of researchers who say they changed the genes of twin baby girls have reached fever, and a senior government official said he violated Chinese law, even as the global scientific community waited for data to assess the truth of his claim.

Dr He Jiankui, a Shenzhen-based researcher, said he would present the data at the international genetic conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday (November 28).

He surprised the world this week with the claim that the baby was born recently after he changed the embryo gene to make them immune to HIV.

His representative did not make it available for comment and he did not respond to questions via e-mail.

The disclosure of Chinese scientists has sparked allegations of fraud, three investigations in China and calls from prominent Chinese researchers for him to be punished.

Harmonicare Medical Holdings, which owns the hospital that the researchers said he got approval from his work, said in a filing on Tuesday (November 27) that they believed the application signature to the hospital's medical ethics committee had been forged and that the committee had never met to review the proposal Dr. He.

The Shenzhen hospital never participated in clinical operations related to gene-edited babies and the twins were not born at the facility, the company said.

SCIENCE AND ETHICS

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday that the China Science Life Association, an umbrella of 22 national-level associations, said they were strongly opposed to research that violated the spirit of science and ethics, and that Dr He's case had been "very bad." disrupting the order of scientific research and damaging China's international reputation in the field of life sciences ".

Previously, the Genetics Society of China, the Chinese Society for Cell Biology and a group of 122 scientists issued separate statements condemning Dr He's actions and calling on the Chinese government to act.

He is also being investigated by his university, the South University of Science and Technology, and the hospital where he should get ethical approval for the trial.

The two bodies said they had no knowledge of the controversial effort.

On Tuesday afternoon, in the clearest sign that the Chinese government viewed Dr He's project as illegal, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping said at a press conference that China had banned the use of gene editing for fertility purposes in 2003.

But Chinese law does not mention the use of Crispr, the revolutionary gene editing technique used by Dr. He to change the genetic code of twins.

In contrast, the US and many other countries have severely restricted the use of Crispr.

The latest Chinese government statement, a 2017 document from the Department of Science and Technology, only says that gene editing research involves large risks and urges close supervision.

In a briefing on Tuesday, deputy minister Xu signaled an internal debate that the Chinese government had about how to regulate developing research areas such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

China wants to be a leader in defined technology in the 21st century, but loose regulation is risky in cases like Dr He.

"We are aware that it is a double-edged sword. Sometimes we feel very anxious," Dr. Xu.

"To be honest, on this question, we still haven't fully straightened our thinking. We know there will be some negative things but we also don't dare – because there will be negative things – to avoid technology or progress."

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