Local news outlets have it that He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies, has not been seen for several days now. Official information from Jiankui’s former university, however, revealed that the scientist has not been detained.
He Jiankui created an uproar of controversy last week after announcing that he has produced the world’s first gene-edited babies.
According to The South China Morning Post, the scientist has not been seen since last Wednesday when he described the process of his controversial gene-editing experiment during a summit held in Hong Kong. Unconfirmed local reports have it that He had been placed under a house arrest by Chinese authorities. His work had earlier been characterized as a violation of Chinese law by the authorities.
However, an official statement from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, the institution where He had been an associate professor, revealed to the MorningPost on Monday that the scientist had not been detained.
“Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are,” a university spokeswoman revealed to the paper. However, she refused to provide more details, adding that the institution is not in the best position to “answer any questions regarding the matter right now.”
Since the announcement last Wednesday, the university has dissociated itself from He’s gene-editing research, insisting that the scientist had been on leave since February. The institution couldn’t have been aware of nor endorse his controversial work.
The announcement by He had created uproars in the global scientific community last week as he claimed he had used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 in the altering of the embryonic genes that resulted in the birth of a pair of twin girls. At the summit, He bragged that he was “proud” of his work, and he quickly revealed that a second experiment, which is related to this research, was already underway.
He explained that he conducted the research with several couples where men were positive with H.I.V. Then, he made use of the in vitro fertilization procedure to create human embryos that were resistant to the H.I.V virus that causes AIDS. According to him, the editing was done manipulating CRISPR-Cas9 to deliberately disable the very gene used to make a certain protein needed by H.I.V. to gain entry into cells.
As expected, the experiment was met by a series of condemnations and skepticisms from over122 scientists, who were questioning both the ethical implications and the scientific soundness of his work.
According to a Thursday statement by Chinese authorities, He’s research had “blatantly violatedChina’s relevant laws and regulations.”
“It has also violated the ethical bottom line that the academic community adheres to. It is shocking and unacceptable,” said Xu Nanping, a vice minister for science and technology during a chat with state broadcaster CCTV.
The Guardian reported that a statement from China’s national health commission has it that the commission would “investigate and deal with any unlawful behavior” by the scientist.