A preliminary investigation into the creation of gene-edited babies in China has concluded that Chinese researcher He Jiankui “illegally conducted the research in the pursuit of personal fame and gain”, reports the Xinhua state news agency.
An investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province said on Monday that He had avoided supervision, raised funds and organised researchers on his own to carry out the work. The case has been referred to the ministry of public security, which investigates suspected crimes.
The report stops short of confirming that the genome-edited babies – created using the CRISPR method – really do exist. Xinhau refers to “the claimed ‘genetically edited babies’”, so we still have no independent confirmation beyond what He has said. However, many biologists think the serious flaws in the work suggested by the details He has revealed have the ring of truth.
Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London – who chaired the meeting where He made his claims and spoke to him on several occasions – is one who believes that the work is real. “If he was going to make this up, surely he would have made it up much better than this,” he said earlier this month.
The Xinhua report also states that gene-editing human embryos for the purpose of reproduction “is banned by Chinese law”, which may have serious repercussions for He. Most previous reports have suggested this was merely a guideline, rather than a law. According to Lovell-Badge, He was fully aware of the guideline – or law – and chose to ignore it.
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