Shenzhen, China – China suspended He Jiankui, a scientist who claims to have produced the first generation of children in the world, and now appears to face punishment after publicly disclosing the research of many scientists who are sentenced as irresponsible.
The work was "extremely disgusting in nature," said Xi Nanping, vice president of the Ministry of Science and Technology, late Thursday in the Xinhua state news agency.
Xi told genetically engineered DNA of two girls not to develop HIV violated scientific ethics, adding that genetic editing of human embryos for reproductive purposes was "explicitly forbidden" in China.
On Wednesday, he admitted at a Hong Kong-based genealogy conference that had already started the second pregnancy, although he was too early to talk about whether to go to full-term mandate.
|Embryo Receives Small Dose of Cas9 Protein and PCSK9 SgRNA in Sperm Injection Microscope Laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
The source confirmed to Al Jazeera that he had returned to Shenzhen, although repeated calls to his cell phone were unanswered and several messages sent to the phone were heard without a reply.
David Cyranoski of Nature published in social media that he was in the southern city and ready to "fully cooperate with all the questions" about his work.
The scientist will probably face the problem of the institutions in Shenzhen as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology. The Chinese National Health Bureau announced that activities would be explored and any behavior "resolutely dealt with," Xinhua said.
There is no doubt what a punishment will be for, because the law in China is indefinite, according to Qiu Renzong, professor emeritus of the Philosophical Institute and director of the Center for Applied Ethics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Research has sent shocks through the international scientific community, with many concerns about the lack of verified data and the risk of healthy embryos exposure to genetic modification. Scientists have long been concerned about the implications for humanity of such genetic engineering.
R Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said that the trial in the United States "would be in violation of public law" and include "punishment [that] are civilians and criminals "for approvals required through the Food and Drug Administration for Human Stations and Therapeutic Studies where the cells lead to pregnancy.
Qiu noted in Hunan province 2012, three researchers were arrested and then released along with three officials who approved trials for genetically modified rice enriched with vitamin A on schooling without their consent.
"Three scientists were disciplined, dismissed from their positions and could not apply for a grant for a certain period of time, so [He’s case] may be similar to this, "Qiu Al Jazeer said." I do not think the police will be involved, but the ministries will discipline it. "
He said in a video released on Sunday – the same day that the world knew about the birth – that he used the CRISPR-cas9 embryo editing tool to eliminate the ability of babies to get HIV from their father infected with the virus.
Anthropologist Eben Kirksey noted that CRISPR became a magic word referring to HIV because of the promise that "you only need to undergo therapy once". But, he added, there were many other promising therapies for HIV treatment, and he did not think many in the HIV research community "put great hope" on genetic editing.
|Scientist Zhou Xiaoqin, on the left, loaded Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA molecule into a fine glass of pipette at He Jiankui's Laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
He gave a partial apology at the packed auditorium at the Second International Meeting on the Edge of the Human Genome in Hong Kong, though it seemed to violate more birth information that came out before the scientific community checked his research instead of executing it.
The scientist told delegates that he was "proud of" his work, adding that the same situation had taken place and was his child "tried first".
Most of the other researchers believed that it was too early to advance to that point given the enormous ethical issues that arise from "editing" – such as Lulu and Nana, baby names – and "unpublished" people alongside her.
"Would it not be useful to try to define a global code of ethics for behavior, at least minimal consent, what is research, and what is standard?" asked Barbel Friedrich, Director of the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald. "What we heard this morning is a violation of the law, which he admitted, but what we need is a global rule."
Institutions reject knowledge
Over the border in Shenzhen, institutions are far from Him.
The Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission has directed the City Medical Commission to investigate its activities.
The South University of Science and Technology, where he is an associate professor who is said to have conducted research without much knowledge of the university, closed his lab and suspended it until an investigation was conducted. The website about genomic research related to his work now seems unavailable.
|The investigator adjusts microtitarian containing embryos inoculated with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
When Al Jazeera visited a research lab who was on a large campus in the center of the University of North Shenzhena, security officers refused entry, complaining to media trying to visit the site. School Communications Officials did not respond to inquiries about the investigation of his research activities.
At the main gate, a police van was parked over the road, and the blue and red lights flickered.
At the Shenzhen Hospital Harmonizing Women and Children's Diseases, where fertilization allegedly occurred, now denies participating in his work and said he believes signatures on the papers that approve the experiment are counterfeit. Efforts to contact the hospital staff for further explanation were not successful.
"We still do not know whether it's produced," Qiu told the newspapers. "Some scientists, from other motives, these young scientists, want to make a lot of money."