It’s only Wednesday but the strangest science story of the week is already taking some interesting twists. A few days ago, Chinese researcher and currently suspended university scientist He Jiankui revealed that he had conducted gene editing work on human embryos which eventually resulted in pregnancies that were carried to term.
The medical research community has universally condemned He’s efforts and framed it as a huge ethical concern. Now, He is defending his work even as another scientist, this time in the U.S., comes under investigation for his role in the research.
In a presentation at a genetic science conference in Hong Kong, He expressed pride at successfully creating what he claims are the first genetically modified babies. The twin girls, which are named Lulu and Nana, are reportedly healthy, but that has done little to silence He’s critics.
The researcher claims that he worked with eight couples hoping to have children, the fathers of which were all HIV positive. He claims to have genetically modified their embryos to make the children resistant to future HIV infection, and alleges that the process resulted in the aforementioned twins. He also revealed that another would-be pregnancy is showing promise.
As CNN reports, He’s associate, Michael Deem of Rice University, is now also under investigation due to his claimed role in the work. Rice University released a statement expressing its concern with the news, saying that it “raises troubling scientific, legal, and ethical questions.” The university also noted that it doesn’t believe any of the actual genetic modification was performed in the United States, but that Deem’s involvement is still what it would consider to be unethical.
It’s worth noting that none of the work presented by He has actually be confirmed by his peers, and the research has not been reviewed by any group. At the moment it remains unclear if fellow scientists are working to validate He’s claims.