Shenzhen, China – China suspended He Jiankui – a scientist who claims to have produced the world's first babies for genetic modification, and now appears to be facing a public disclosure of many in the scientific community's research, convicted as irresponsible.
His work was "extremely abhorrent in nature," Xi Nanping, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology told state news agency Xinhua late Thursday.
Xi said genetic engineering of twin girls DNA so that they will not develop HIV violated scientific ethics, adding that the gene-regulation of human embryos for reproduction purposes "explicitly banned" in China.
He acknowledged at a Hong Kong gene arranging conference on Wednesday that he had already raised another pregnancy, although it was too early to say whether he would go on full terms.
|One embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a sperm injection microscope in a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
One source confirmed to Al Jazeera that he had returned to Shenzhen, although repeated calls to his cell went unanswered, and several messages sent to the phone were read without response.
David Soransky from the Nature magazine reported on social media that he was in the southern city and is ready to "fully cooperate with all the issues" for his work.
"Decisively deal with"
Scientists are likely to face the demands of the issues of the Shenzhen institutions, as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology. China National Commission of Health said that its activities will be investigated and all offenses "resolutely resolved," according to Xinhua.
It is uncertain what punishment can be faced by the fact that the law in China is unclear to implement, according to Qiu Renzong, professor successor of the Institute of Philosophy and director of the Center for Applied Ethics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
His research sent shocks through the international scientific community, with many worried about the lack of confirmed data and the risks of exposure to healthy embryos to regulate the gene. Scientists have long been concerned about the implications for humanity of such genetic engineering.
R Alta-Sharr, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said that if he did the US trial, "he would be violating public law" and would include "punishments [that] are civil and criminal "because of the approvals required through the Food and Drug Administration for human cell studies and therapy where cells lead to gestation.
Participation of the police?
Qiu spotted in Hunan Province in 2012, three researchers were arrested and then laid off together with three officials who approved tests for genetically modified rice for children without vitamin A vitamin A.
"Three scientists were disciplined, were laid off from their positions and could not apply for grants in a certain period of time, so [He’s case] maybe it's similar to this, "Qiu told Al Jazeera." I think the police will not be involved, but ministries will discipline him. "
He said in a video released Sunday – the very day the world learned about births – that he used the CRISPR-cas9 embryo editing tool to remove the possibility for babies to get HIV from their father who is infected with the virus.
Anthropologist Eben Kirkei noted that CRISPR became a magic word associated with HIV because of the promise that "you just need to do the treatment once." But, he added, there were many other promising therapies for treating HIV, and he did not think that many researchers in the HIV program "give much hope" to genetic regulation.
|The researcher Zhou Xiaoqin, left, loads Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA molecules into a fine glass pipette in the He Jiankui laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
He gave a partial apology to a packed auditorium at the Second International Human Genome Regulation Summit in Hong Kong, although it seemed that quarrels were more about information about the births that emerged before his research was checked by the scientific community, rather than enforced.
Scientists told delegates he was "proud of" his work, adding that if the same situation happened and that his child would "try first".
Most other researchers believed it was too early to advance until that moment, given the great ethical issues arising from what is being "edited" -Lulu and Nana, the names they gave to twin babies and "unmanaged" people living on the other side.
"Would not it be useful to try to define a global ethical code of conduct, at least a minimum consent, and what is research and what is the standard?" asked Barbel Friedrich, director of the Alfred Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald. "What we heard this morning was a violation of the law, for which he acknowledged, but what we need is a global rule."
Institutions deny knowledge
Through the border in Shenzhen, the institutions are distancing themselves.
The Health and Family Planning Committee in Shenzhen has directed the city's medical expert committee to investigate the activities of He.
South University of Science and Technology, where he is an associate professor and is said to have conducted the research without full knowledge of the university, sealed his laboratory and suspended pending investigation. It seems that the genomic research site related to his work is unavailable.
|The researcher adapted embryos containing microns that were injected with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA into a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]|
When Al Jazeera visited the research lab, located on the campus in the center of universities in northern Shenzhen, security officials declined to enter, complaining about the media trying to visit the site. Officials from the communications department at the school did not respond to requests for a hearing on the investigation into He's research activities.
At the main gate, a police van was parked across the road, his blue and red lights blinking.
The women and children's hospital, Shenzhen Harmonicare, where allegedly occurred the fertilization, now denies being involved in the work of Him, and said that he believed the signing of the documents for the approval of the experiment had been forged. Attempts to get to the hospital's staff for further explanation were not successful.
"We still do not know if it's fabricated," Qi said in the newspapers. "Some scholars, from other motives, these young scientists, they want to make a lot of money."