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China Stops Controversial Human Gene-Editing Program

A controversial research program in China that genetically engineered twins for HIV immunity has now come to a halt, four days after news about it broke.

China’s government ordered the research group to stop its work, according to the Associated Press.

Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping said that the project “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable.” Xu also said that the program was illegal.

There has been of yet no independent confirmation of the results. Lead researcher He Jiankui yesterday addressed an international conference on gene editing taking place in Hong Kong. He was scheduled to speak again today but left. A spokesperson sent AP a statement credited to He that read, “I will remain in China, my home country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work. My raw data will be made available for third party review.”

Global reaction to the research, which is the first publicly claimed case of modifying the genetics of a human being, was swift and harsh. Many scientists sharply criticized the news. Some questioned whether the gene editing even happened. China’s National Health Commission and Health and Family Planning commission in Shenzhen both opened investigations.

The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, where He spoke, called clinical use of the techniques “irresponsible at this time.” The group further stated that the technology “could produce unintended harmful effects for not just an individual but also for that individual’s descendants.”