China must rein in gene-editing geneticist
If China is serious about playing a leadership role in the world, it must take steps to assure the world that it will not look the other way as Chinese scientists play God with genetics.
China has suspended the research activities of a scientist who created genetically modified humans — twins already born and a pregnancy now in process.
Which leaves unanswered the question of how Chinese scientist He Jiankui was able to carry out his research and bring a pair of gene-edited children into the world without the authorities in an authoritarian nation such as China not even aware of it, until he announced his breakthrough in Hong Kong.
The practice is illegal in the United States and many other countries. It’s dangerous. The risks are not well understood. Tinkering with one set of genes could have unforeseen consequences. Human genetic engineering holds potential for great good but for even greater evil. Allowing it to happen as secretly as it did in China is opposite of the careful and methodical vetting that needs to be done before human DNA is manipulated.
Mr. He’s assertion is that he edited the children’s genes for a good cause — to save them from possible HIV infection later in life. The same techniques that protect against the HIV infection could presumably be used in attempts to enhance intelligence, beauty or size, or in any number of other ways that serve no accepted medical or health-related purpose.
Mr. He, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed he used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-cas9 to insert or deactivate genes.
CRISPR has been hailed as an innovation with tremendous potential, but many in the scientific community believe the technology is still experimental and not ready for human application. China is bankrolling expensive research projects have in a less restrictive regulatory environment than Western nations.
Mr. He’s research was done without the practices, normal in the U.S., of obtaining independent verification and peer-reviewing.
The United States must insist that China work with scientists from around the globe. We are talking about the future of the human race.