A Chinese researcher said he has successfully edited the genes of twin girls born this month, marking what would be a controversial scientific breakthrough.
The Associated Press reported that He Jiankui of Shenzhen said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. He said he was trying to ensure the newborns had a gene that would resist possible infection with HIV, and not change any inherited diseases or qualities.
Jiankui discussed his work in an interview with the AP and with one of the organizers of a gene-editing conference that is scheduled to start on Tuesday. His work has not been published in a journal, nor has it been independently confirmed.
“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” Jiankui told the AP.
He added that he has practiced gene editing on mice, monkey and human embryos for several years, and chose to focus on genes related to HIV because of its prevalence in China.
The AP reported that Jiankui's announcement was met with scorn from some in the scientific community. The practice of gene editing is banned in the U.S., as it risks impacting other genes and is considered by some to be human experimentation.