The human genome is one of the most complex molecular structures ever known. Inside it is the blueprint of human beings. It contains all the information about how a person is – how tall or short, intelligent or average, physiology, nature, etc. The study of molecular genetics has expanded our understanding of how we came to be and who were our ancestors. However, studying the gene and trying to modify it are two very different things. There is a fine line between scientific endeavors and playing with fire, and editing a human gene is crossing the line. It is precisely what He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claimed in November to have created genetically edited babies, has done.
Chinese authorities have now declared his work as illegal, after a lengthy investigation that had been carried out since his announcement. His work shocked the world and attracted extremely harsh criticism from the global scientific community. The investigation conducted by the authorities has revealed that He Jiankui falsified approvals and ethics permits to recruit eight couples to participate in the trials. Jiankui’s attempt resulted in the birth of a pair of twin girls and another embryo.
He used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool to edit parts of the girls’ genes by removing the CCR5 gene, which is responsible for enabling the HIV virus to infect the cells. It is unclear what repercussions this will have on the children later in life or even their dependents. It is also unclear what punishment He Jiankui will face for his illegal experiment.