Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

Chinese scientist He Jiankui claims he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls. (AP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

  • Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He Jiankui
  • Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes

SHENZHEN, China: A Chinese scientist responsible for what he said were the world’s first “gene-edited” babies evaded oversight and broke guidelines in a quest for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as the university where he worked announced his dismissal.
He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born that month, sparking an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.
Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical.
Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.
He had “deliberately evaded oversight” with the intent of creating a gene-edited baby “for the purpose of reproduction,” according to the initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported.
He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to “seek personal fame and profit,” Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.
The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by national decree, the report said.
The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.
“Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech,” the statement said.
The university added the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.
Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on Monday.
He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November, saying that he was “proud” of what he had done and that gene editing would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
He’s announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure, as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.
Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction, and says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.
The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing crimes had been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as saying.


Australia says foreign government behind cyberattack on lawmakers

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Australia says foreign government behind cyberattack on lawmakers

  • Morrison did not name any suspects, but analysts have said China, Russia and Iran were the most likely culprits

SYDNEY: A cyberattack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, without naming any suspects.
As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network.
The hackers breached the networks of Australia’s major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators.
“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.
“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.”
Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference.
Australians will return to the polls by May.
Morrison did not name any suspects, but analysts have said China, Russia and Iran were the most likely culprits.
“When you consider motivation, you would have to say that China is the leading suspect, while you wouldn’t rule out Russia either,” said Fergus Hanson, head of the International Cyber Policy Center at think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“It is the honey-pot of juicy political gossip that has been hoovered up. Emails showing everything from the dirty laundry of internal fights through to who supported a policy could be on display.”
Ties with China have deteriorated since 2017, after Canberra accused Beijing of meddling in its domestic affairs. Both countries have since sought to mend relations, but Australia remains wary of China.
Tension rose this month after Australia rescinded the visa of a prominent Chinese businessman, just months after barring Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies from supplying equipment to its 5G broadband network.
Officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency covertly monitored computers of US Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and campaign committees, and stole large amounts of data, US investigators have concluded.