After proudly announcing that he created the first genetically edited babies in the world, the researcher He Jiankui is now reportedly living under house arrest and with an armed guard. His colleagues and other researchers fear that He could face the death penalty.
During fertility treatments, He Jiankui of Shenzhen has altered embryos for seven couples, and one of the couples gave birth to twin girls. The researcher’s actions alarmed the entire world, but he stated that his motivation was not to gloat.
Removing a Gene to Grant a Trait?
He removed the CCR5 gene from the embryo of the twin girls to give them a trait that will make them immune to HIV. However, this gene could make the babies more vulnerable to other viruses like influenza, or even cause unknown health problems.
In December, his colleagues found out that the researcher was confined to his apartment. Now, Prof. Robin Lovell-Badge (Francis Crick Institute, London), who organized the genetics summit where He announced his research, updated the media, hoping that he can save the rogue scientist:
All the reports suggest he is an university owned apartment and there are a quite a number of guards. It’s not clear whether he’s under guard, meaning house arrest or the guards are there to protect him. I suspect both.
According to Telegraph, the scientist has received many death threats after making his work known to the entire public.
Collaborators Might Lose Jobs and Face Punishment
Lovell-Badge added that the Ministries of Science and Health are leading an official investigation and that many people that prove to have been involved in this matter will probably lose their jobs:
So how has he got them to do all this work? He could be had up on all sorts of charges of corruption and being guilty of corruption in China these days is not something you want to be.
Chinese officials will have to find out about the scientist’s collaborators –if they knew that the project was illegal.
As for his punishment, the death penalty is far too much. Yes, it was an irresponsible act, but the problem now is how to prevent any such cases from happening rather than punishing and turning one person into a scapegoat.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.