"If they want to prove that science is not out of control, the international summit on genome editing in Hong Kong must call on governments for a global ban" – Dr David King

Below are two responses to claims by a Chinese scientist that he has created GM babies.

Meanwhile for those who read Chinese, here are links to some resources on this story in that language.

* The university where the scientist and his team are based has announced that this project has nothing to do with them.

* More than 100 Chinese researchers have issued a statement in which they denounce the project.

* There is a debate on the internet, originating from China, about who gave permission for this project. A document is being circulated that is claimed to be the research permit but it is being questioned and some do not consider it to be authentic.

1. Claims for GM babies underscore need for global ban
2. Claim of genetically modified babies: If true, a grave abuse of human rights

1. Claims for GM babies underscore need for global ban

Human Genetics Alert, 26 Nov 2018

Responding to today’s claims by a Chinese scientist that he has created GM babies, Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert(1), said: “If these claims are true, the world has changed – it’s a day that I and many others have dreaded. But it underscores the need for an immediate global ban on the cloning and genetic engineering of human beings. If they want to prove that science is not out of control, the international summit on genome editing in Hong Kong this week must call on governments for a global ban. If they don’t, it’s time for the people to take away their licence to operate, as we did with GM food in Britain.

“Although some scientists have condemned He Jiankui’s criminal eugenic experiments, the truth is that they have themselves provided cover for him. Although there is no medical need whatever for genetic engineering of human beings, scientists’ organisations always oppose a global ban. Just a few months ago, a Nuffield Council on Bioethics panel dominated by scientists even supported the straightforward designer baby ‘enhancement’ that He has indulged in.

“The horrible history of eugenics in the 20th century should show people the disastrous consequences of going down this path, and it should not be forgotten that China still has a eugenics law on its statute books. To mention this in a time of resurgent global right-wing extremism and racism is not scaremongering. In fact, there is a very direct link to those politics here: just down the road in Shenzen is the BGI genomics company which has been working with London-based geneticist Robert Plomin to identify ‘the genes for high intelligence’, using samples from China’s elite science and mathematics schools. Just two weeks ago, one of their collaborators, Steve Hsu, who has spoken of radically increasing human IQ, announced(2) that his company was offering genetic tests for ‘IQ genes’. How long will it be until people like He start trying to create a new genetically engineered high IQ elite?

“There has been a strong international consensus for many years, embodied in laws and treaties, that human genetic engineering would be a disaster. The fact that such laws take the extraordinary step of banning scientific experiments before they were even technically feasible shows the strength of the social reasons behind them. China should follow suit and ensure that He Jiankui is prosecuted as a warning to others.”


1. Human Genetics Alert is an independent secular watchdog group that supports abortion rights. Dr David King is a former molecular biologist.

2. Claim of genetically modified babies: If true, a grave abuse of human rights

Center for Genetics and Society, 26 Nov 2018

Chinese scientist Jiankui He has announced the birth of twin girls whose DNA he claims to have altered using the gene-editing technique CRISPR.

“If true, this amounts to unethical and reckless experimentation on human beings, and a grave abuse of human rights,” said Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest organization that brings social justice and human rights perspectives to human biotechnologies.

“We wish the best for the health of these babies, but strongly condemn the stunt that threatens their safety, and puts the rest of us at risk,” Darnovsky said. “Throwing open the door to a society of genetic haves and have-nots undermines our chances for a fair and just future.”

“Policy makers, scientists, and public interest groups around the world have called for a moratorium or ban on altering the genes of future children and generations,” Darnovsky continued. “He’s experiment violates the closest thing to a policy consensus we have. It would be illegal in dozens of countries.”

Though there has been no independent confirmation of the claim, He launched what amounts to a public-relations campaign to publicize it, complete with promotional YouTube videos in English. The timing of his announcement, on the eve of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, seems deliberately calculated to preempt that high-profile scientific meeting.

China is effectively a co-sponsor of the Hong Kong Summit, through the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong. But it is unclear whether the Chinese government authorized He’s experiment. The procedures were apparently conducted in secret, and He has reportedly applied for a patent on them. He is chairman and co-founder of Direct Genomics, a DNA sequencing company in Shenzhen.

“This unscrupulous experiment overrides both the summit and the public deliberations on human germline modification that have been widely called for,” said Katie Hasson, CGS’s Program Director on Genetic Justice. “It is imperative that the scientists gathered in Hong Kong, and the Chinese authorities, clearly denounce this act of scientific grandstanding. The actions of a few rogue scientists should not derail the urgently necessary process of democratic deliberation. We need to put in place enforceable regulations now to stop reproductive gene editing while this public conversation takes place.”

Jiankui He’s recklessness is underscored by his own self-justification. As He acknowledged, though the babies’ biological father is infected with HIV, this would not prevent him from having healthy children. The embryos created with his sperm, and subjected to the dangers of gene editing, were not affected by HIV or AIDS. The attempted to disable a gene in order to produce future resistance to HIV was apparently done to provide a proof of principle. But some reports suggest that the experiment actually did not work as well as He claims: in one twin, only one copy of the gene was changed and there were signs of mosaicism.

“It’s hard to imagine a graver abuse of a child,” Darnovsky said. “If this goes unchallenged, other rogue actors will soon offer wealthy parents purported genetic enhancements for their children. In a time of resurgent racism and socio-economic disparity, the last thing we need is for some people and groups to consider themselves biologically superior to others.”