Editing embryos’ genes is allowed in the US only in laboratory research that does not result in any births.
A US university is investigating a bioengineering professor for his reported collaboration with a Chinese colleague, He Jiankui, who claims to have created the world’s first babies whose DNA has been modified by genetic editing.
Houston, Texas-based Rice University is conducting a probe into Dr Michael Deem, university spokesman Doug Miller told The Daily Caller on Wednesday.
‘This research raises troubling scientific, legal, and ethical questions. … Rice had no knowledge of this work’, Miller said.
According to The Associated Press, Michael Deem is a ‘US scientist who worked with [He] on this project after He returned to China’ and also has a stake in He’s two genetic companies based in China.
Dr Deem has received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which ‘does not support the use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos’, NIH director Francis Collins said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a video posted on Monday, He Jiankui, a Stanford University alumnus, currently working at a laboratory in Shenzhen, said he had modified two embryos produced from the sperm of an HIV-positive donor and implanted them in a healthy mother, who gave birth to twin girls earlier this month.
He said he used a tool known as CRISPR-cas9, which can be inserted to deactivate a gene called CCR5 that acts as a ‘doorway’ to allow the HIV virus to enter a cell.
The scientist said that the twins’ DNA was modified to make it possible to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.
He’s embryonic gene-editing has prompted a global outcry among the scientific community.
‘If true, this experiment is monstrous. There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals … In many other places in the world, this would be illegal, punishable by imprisonment’, Julian Savulescu, the Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at Oxford University, said in a statement.
Although editing embryos’ genes is allowed in the US only in laboratory research that does not result in any births, a recent Pew poll shows that a hefty 72 percent of respondents believed that embryonic gene-editing ‘to treat a serious disease or condition that the baby would have at birth’ is an appropriate use of the technology.