A Chinese court has convicted the scientist behind the world’s first gene-edited babies, He Jiankui, to three years in jail, saying that the researcher’s team “crossed the bottom line of ethics.” Alongside his prison sentence, He was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000).
He Jiankui was put behind bars alongside two colleagues. Zhang Renli was fined 1 million yuan ($143,000) and sentenced to two years in prison, while Qin Jinzhou was required to pay 500,000 yuan ($71,000) and sentenced to 18-months in jail, with a two-year stay.
He Jiankui claimed to have assisted in making the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls Lula and Nana — back in November 2018 utilizing the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9.
This kind of work is forbidden in the U.S. and other nations due to the moral concerns of manipulating human embryos, in addition to the risk the work poses to other genes, where it can create unintended side-effects that might be passed on to future generations.
The scientific community was critical of the work, and He was fired from his university position.
Beyond the moral implications, evaluation of He’s work suggests that his efforts may have put their health at risk.
The experiment aimed to make the babies immune to HIV by altering the CCR5 gene, which is believed to affect resistance to HIV.
Though everyone has two copies of each gene, researchers identified that He only edited one copy of the gene.
One geneticist stated there are “all kinds of glitches” with the way the work was performed, and another stated that the infants probably aren’t HIV-resistant as a result.