In November 2018 Chinese biophysics researcher He Jiankui shook the scientific world and set off a moral debate by announcing the birth of the twins, Lulu and Nana, the first-ever genetically edited human beings.
He had used a tool called CRISPR to try and disable a gene that allows the AIDS virus to enter a cell, to provide the babies with an ability to resist the infection.
What followed was the worldwide condemnation of Jiankui’s research as the changes could be passed down to future generations and nobody has an idea of how it will affect the individual.
Chinese government promptly suspended of all his research activities since it was against the preexisting ban towards gene editing in China. During the announcement, he had let out one more woman was pregnant with an additional edited embryo. But none of it was confirmed, until now.
Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua recently reported that He Jiankui had been sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of illegally practicing medicine. He has also been fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) by a court in the southern city of Shenzhen. Two other researchers involved in the project were also fined and sentenced to a lesser degree.
What that report silently revealed to us is, in fact, the confirmation of the existence of a 3rd gene-edited baby. In Xinhua’s report, it is stated that Jiankui was sentenced for his experiments “in which three genetically edited babies were born.” We don’t have any other additional information regarding the babies.
It is still unclear whether the treatment was successful or even whether the babies are alive now. But, the whole affair has shunned light over how advanced current genetic technology is and will hopefully discourage other scientists from behaving unethically and recklessly.
Kehkooi Kee, a Tsinghua University researcher said the sentence should have been harsher to deter others. He also believes that Jianki should be held responsible for any fallouts from the experiment on the lives of the babies and their families.
While many scientists took wary of the scientist being arrested they agree that it was warranted here for the sheer recklessness from the researchers part. Better or for worse, we for now sure know that last year three, not two, genetically engineered human beings were born to this world.