In an announcement that is sending shock waves throughout the scientific community, a scientist in China is claiming is to have created the world's first genetically-edited babies.
In a Youtube video posted on Monday, Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced the birth of the world's first genetically-edited babies, twin girls he called Lulu and Nana, who, according to Jiankui, will be resistant to HIV infection.
Jiankui, a professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claims to have been modifying genetic information in the embryos of seven couples during fertility treatments. Lulu and Nana are the first resulting pregnancy.
Since the discovery of CRISPR gene sequencing and the Cas9 enzyme, researchers have speculated about the possibility of human genetic modification. Together, CRISPR and Cas9 can act as a genetic scalpel, precisely targeting specific gene sequences for editing, but the breakthrough is not without controversy. Despite the groundbreaking implications for disease prevention and treatment, CRISPR/Cas9 has raised many ethical questions about the potential for its abuse, leading to bans on human testing in several countries so far.
If He Jiankui's claims prove true, however, there may be no going back.
About Lulu and Nana: Twin Girls Born Healthy After Gene Surgery As Single-Cell Embryos www.youtube.com
Jiankui's claims have not been published or peer-reviewed, but China's National Health Commission has ordered an immediate investigation.
Along with his university and hospital, who denied any knowledge or involvement in his work, Jiankui's research was denounced in a joint statement by over 120 Chinese scientists who called the trial a "huge blow" to Chinese research.
Jiankui is standing behind his decision. "I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Society will decide what to do next."
With the technology out there, people knew it would be just a matter of time before the first human experiment was done.
Despite the ethical questions, many felt the technology's potential impact was too important to dismiss outright.
But it was a hard pass from others who wanted nothing to do with it.
After all, who knows what could go wrong?
Now that the line has been crossed, only time will tell if it was the right choice.