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First gene-edited babies born in China

Written by NTN staff
26/11/18

A scientist in China claims to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies, sparking much online debate from the wider scientific and academic communities.

Chinese university professor He Jiankui posted a video on YouTube saying that the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV. They were born through regular IVF but using an egg which was specially modified before being inserted into the womb, AFP reports.

The professor, who was educated at Stanford in the US, said their DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.

The development emerged Sunday in an article published by industry journal the MIT Technology Review, which referenced medical documents posted online by He's research team at the Southern University of Science and Technology to recruit couples for the experiments.

A conference of world experts in Hong Kong today is expected to reveal more details from the Shenzhen scientist.

Since the news emerged, several organisations, including a hospital, linked to the claim have denied any involvement. The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen said it had been unaware of the research project and will now launch an investigation, the BBC reports.

Such genetic engineering techniques are controversial and the cause of much ethical debate (see http://nationaltechnology.co.uk/The-ethics-of-gene-editing.php) of what will almost certainly be many other similar cases in the near future.