A Chinese scientist announced the birth of the first genetically modified children, a case with profound medical and ethical implications, which have already generated a strong rejection among the world's scientific community.
"Two beautiful Chinese girls named Lulu and Nana came to the world a few weeks ago crying as well as any other child," he said in a video posted on YouTube on Sunday.
According to He, the genetic modification of the embryos was performed with the new CRISPR-Cas9 technique, to make newborns resistant to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The researcher at the University of Southern Sciences and Technology says the gene change was successful and that only one gene was modified to prevent HIV infection.
The identities of the children and their parents were kept secret, but, according to him, the father is a bearer of HIV and wanted to prevent the discrimination of their children.
There is currently no scientific publication about the intervention announced by him, but just a Chinese registry entry for clinical trials.
The ad has already generated many negative reactions.
More than 120 Chinese scientists today condemned Jiankui's announcement in an open letter. People's experience is "madness" and has potentially serious consequences, says an open letter signed by scientists from various institutions, including the universities of Tsinghua, Beijing and Fudan and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
These irreversible transformations of human genetic material, which are extremely uncertain in science, will inevitably interfere with the human genetic group, "the letter said.
"It is possible that babies born to be healthy for a period of time, but the risks and possible damage to the human group (…) are incalculable," the letter adds.
They also regret that experimentation is a "serious blow to the overall reputation of Chinese science" and calls on the supervisory authorities to act as soon as possible and conduct a case investigation.
"Pandora's box has been opened and we may have a chance to close it before the damage is irreparable," they warn.
One of the discoverers of the CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing Technique, American Jennifer Doudna, also criticized He's announcement.
If checked, this work is a break from caution and the transparent approach to applying the global scientific community of CRISPR-Cas9, "said Doudna, professor of chemistry and molecular biology at the University of California at Berkeley.
Doudna said the research has not yet been published or peer-reviewed by the scientific community. The researcher is in Hong Kong, participating in the Genomics Human Edition Summit, which he also plans to follow.
"Assuming that scientific analysis confirms today's news, this work confirms the urgent need to limit the use of genetic editing in human embryos in scenarios where there is no clear need in the medical field and where another medical approach is not feasible" he pointed out.
"It is important to continue a public and transparent discussion on the many uses of genetic editing technology," he added. The American scientist is convinced that this announcement "does not throw an inadequate shadow" on CRISPR-Cas9 technology and research that could be used one day to "treat and cure genetic, infectious and common diseases in adults and children.
The CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism was discovered almost three decades ago, and in 2003, the Spanish microbiologist Francisco Martínez Mojica discovered that it is a mechanism that microorganisms use to protect themselves against viruses. They do this by cutting genetic material from viruses and by incorporating that material into its own DNA, a procedure in which the Cas9 protein intervenes as a genetic scissors.
Mojica's discovery was the foundation for Doudna and French researcher Emmanuelle Charpentier to succeed in artificially reproducing the system and to present in 2012 the possibility of genome modification,