A year after the birth of the first supposedly genetically manipulated babies in China the responsible scientist has been convicted. Researcher He Jiankui in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined three million yuan (about 380,000 euros) for illegal medical methods, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
According to the Chinese researcher, the twins with the pseudonyms Lulu and Nana, born in 2018, were conceived through artificial insemination. The so-called Crispr / Cas9 genetic engineering method was used. It enables specific sections of the genome to be removed and replaced. The genetic modification process is also called "gene scissors". The Chinese researcher claims to be the first scientist to have this CRISPR/ Cas9 method applied to embryos that were eventually born.
He had said at the time that he had changed the DNA of the twin couple so that the two girls were protected from infection by their HIV-infected father. At the time, the researcher also reported that another woman was pregnant with a genetically modified child. According to Xinhua, this child also became
Changes in DNA are ethically questionable
The case had been criticized internationally as a breach of taboo that violated ethical standards. The scientists, who are considered to be the discoverers of the gene scissors, subsequently called for a worldwide moratorium not to use the method in human germ lines. This means changes in the DNA in sperm, egg cells or embryos in order to create genetically modified children. Critics fear that such experiments are unsafe and could have side effects. In addition, it is uncertain whether the method is efficient at all. Above all, use on people is considered ethically questionable.
The German Ethics Council issued a 230-page statement in May on the possibilities to intervene in the germline. In principle, the ethics council does not consider the germline to be untouchable. At the same time, the committee warned of the unforeseeable ethical consequences of such interventions. The procedures are too immature and the risk of undesirable health consequences too great. Therefore, a moratorium should deal with the concrete questions of application.
He had to stop his research after the events became known. Recently, his research results had also been questioned. Experts who had reviewed He Jiankui's papers came in an article for the magazine in early December MIT Technology Review to the conclusion that He's actions violated numerous ethical and scientific norms. The manipulations that were supposed to protect the babies from being infected with HIV would also probably not have had the intended success.