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.


Russian scientists find defect in new heavy lift space rocket engine

Updated 18 January 2019
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Russian scientists find defect in new heavy lift space rocket engine

  • The new heavy lift space rocket is capable of carrying more than 20 tons into the orbit
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the project is very important for the country's defense

MOSCOW: Scientists have discovered a defect in the engines of Russia’s new flagship heavy lift space rocket that could destroy it in flight, an apparent setback to a project President Vladimir Putin has said is vital for national security.
The Angara A5, which was test-launched in 2014, is being developed to replace the Proton M as Russia’s heavy lift rocket, capable of carrying payloads bigger than 20 tons into orbit. A launch pad for the new rocket is due to open in 2021.
In July, Putin said the Angara A5 had “huge significance” for the country’s defense and called on space agency Roscosmos to work more actively on it and to meet all its deadlines.
The issue with the Angara A5 was brought to attention by scientists at rocket engine manufacturer Energomash in a paper ahead of a space conference later this month.
The paper, reported by RIA news agency on Friday and published online, said the engines of the Angara A5 could produce low frequency oscillations that could ultimately destroy the rocket.
A special valve had been fitted to mitigate the issue, but in some cases the oscillations continued, it said. Energomash did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Russia’s space program has been dogged by mishaps in recent years, including failed cargo delivery missions into space and the aborted launch in October of the manned Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. Russia’s current heavy lift rocket, the Proton M, has had a nearly 10 percent failure rate in more than 100 launches since it entered service in 2001, creating pressure to reorganize and improve the space program.