Chinese scientist criticized for risking ‘gene-edited’ babies’ lives

He Jiankui sparked an international scientific and ethical row when used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Chinese scientist criticized for risking ‘gene-edited’ babies’ lives

  • He Jiankui sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November
  • ‘Pretty much everyone he talked to had said to him: ‘Don’t do it’’

LONDON: A leading geneticist who ran the conference where a Chinese scientist said he had made the world’s first “gene-edited” babies condemned him on Monday for potentially jeopardizing lives and having no biology training.
Robin Lovell-Badge, organizer of the November 2018 event where China’s He Jiankui made his controversial presentation, described him as a rich man with a “huge ego” who “wanted to do something he thinks will change the world.”
He Jiankui, associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he said he had used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November.
He did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Chinese authorities are investigating him and have meanwhile halted this kind of research.
In videos posted online and at the conference, He said he believed his gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Lovell-Badge, a professor and gene expert at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute who led the organizing committee for the November Human Genome Editing Summit at Hong Kong University, said it was impossible to know what He had actually done.
“If it’s true (that he edited the genomes in the way he says) then it is certainly possible that he has put the children’s lives at risk,” he told journalists in London.
“No-one knows what these mutations will do.”
Lovell-Badge said he originally invited He to the conference after hearing in scientific circles that he was “up to something.” Lovell-Badge hoped that asking He to interact with specialists would encourage him to “control his urges.”
“Pretty much everyone he talked to had said to him: ‘Don’t do it’,” he said. “But clearly it was all too late.”
Lovell-Badge said he learned of He’s claims on the eve of the conference, and had an emergency meeting with him.
“He thought that he was doing good, and that what he was doing was the next big thing,” Lovell-Badge said. But he had “no basic training in biology” and the experiments he said he had carried out “ignored all the norms of how you conduct any clinical trial or clinical experiment.”
“He should certainly be stopped from doing anything like this again,” he said.
Lovell-Badge said he had not heard from He since early December, but understood he was in Shenzhen in a guarded apartment during the probe.
Chinese authorities and institutions, as well as hundreds of international scientists, have condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was against the law and medical ethics of China.


Google to prompt Android users to choose preferred browsers to allay EU concerns

Updated 20 March 2019
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Google to prompt Android users to choose preferred browsers to allay EU concerns

  • The European Commission last year fined Google for using its mobile software to block rivals
  • Google will now try to ensure that Android users are aware of other browsers and search engines

BRUSSELS, Belgium: Alphabet’s Google will prompt Android users to choose their preferred browsers and search apps, a senior Google executive said on Tuesday, as the company seeks to allay EU antitrust concerns and ward off fresh sanctions.
The European Commission last year handed Google a record 4.34 billion euro ($4.9 billion) fine for using the market power of its mobile software to block rivals in areas such as Internet browsing. By pre-installing its Chrome browser and Google search app on Android devices, Google had an unfair advantage over its rivals, EU enforcers said.
Google will now try to ensure that Android users are aware of browsers and search engines other than its own services, Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog.
“In the coming months, via the Play Store, we’ll start asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use,” he wrote without providing details.
The company, which introduced a licensing fee for device makers to access its app marketplace after the EU sanction, does not plan to scrap the charge.
Google could be fined up to 5 percent of Alphabet’s average daily worldwide turnover if it fails to comply with the EU order to stop anti-competitive practices.