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Chinese scientists who created gene-edited babies may now be missing

Published Dec 3rd, 2018 12:45PM EST
he jiankui missing
Image: HelloRF/Shutterstock

The scientific community was rocked last week after a Chinese scientists named He Jiankui claimed to have successfully modified human embryos using the CRISPR tool. Two of those babies, He claimed, were already born, with more potentially on the way.

It was an unexpected revelation and it sent He’s peers in the genetics field scrambling to condemn his work. Genetic modification is something that the vast majority of scientists believe needs to be handled with extreme care, and calls for regulations on human genetic editing have been nearly universal among researchers. To say He was in hot water would be a massive understatement, and now reports out of China as to his whereabouts are mixed. Put simply, nobody will say where he is.

It was reported that He had gone missing after his appearance at last week’s genetics conference in Hong Kong. That’s not necessarily odd for high-profile Chinese nationals, since the state has a habit of detaining individuals without publicly announcing that they’ve done so. Well-known individuals who go “missing” often turn up before long.

However, conflicting reports from He’s former employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology, suggest that he hasn’t been placed in custody. According to the South China Morning Post, a spokesperson for the university denied claims that He had been detained.

“Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are,” the spokesperson reportedly said. “We cannot answer any questions regarding the matter right now, but if we have any information, we will update it through our official channels.”

The university felt the need to comment on He’s status due to the fact that reports of He’s status were linked to a claim that the university’s president had actually summoned him back. He was apparently suspended from his post at the university as far back as February of this year.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that He was being forced to remain holed up in his own home. This story has only gotten more and more bizarre as it’s gone on, and it appears to be far from over.