Written by Austin Ramzy and Sui-Lee Wee
A Chinese scientist who claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies “seriously violated” state regulations, according to the results of an initial government investigation reported Monday by Chinese state media.
The investigators’ findings indicate that the scientist, He Jiankui, and his collaborators are likely to face criminal charges.
He shocked the world in November when he announced that he had used Crispr, a powerful gene-editing technique, to alter the genes of human embryos. He produced some data but no definitive proof during his presentation at an international conference in Hong Kong.
The investigation found that he and his team had edited the genes of human embryos and then implanted the embryos in female volunteers, as he claimed last year. One volunteer gave birth to twin girls in November, and another volunteer is now pregnant, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.
He’s announcement raised ethical concerns about the long-term effects of such genetic alterations, which if successful would be inherited by the child’s progeny, and whether other scientists would be emboldened to try their own gene-editing experiments.
Scientists inside and outside China criticized He’s work, which highlighted fears that the country has overlooked ethical issues in the pursuit of scientific achievement. Chinese authorities placed He under investigation, during which time he has been kept under guard at a guesthouse at the Southern University of Science and Technology in the city of Shenzhen.
The university announced Monday that it was rescinding He’s contract and canceling all of his teaching and research activities there.
The investigation also found that He had raised funds on his own “in pursuit of personal fame and fortune.” The allegations that he forged documents and financed his work independently could shield from punishment his university, local authorities and the hospital where the trial was carried out.
Still, some critics have asked how He could have perpetrated such a scheme without some knowledge of the authorities. After his announcement, speculation swirled that the Shenzhen government had funded his work. Local officials have denied it.