Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who triggered a firestorm of controversy last week when he claimed to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies, is rumored to be missing, according to local news outlets.
Local reports suggested the scientist had been placed under house arrest by Chinese authorities, who’ve characterized He’s work as a violation of Chinese law. But on Monday, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, where He had been an associate professor, told the Morning Post that the scientist had not been detained.
“Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are,” a university spokeswoman told the paper. She, however, declined to elaborate further, saying the institution could not “answer any questions regarding the matter right now.”
The university has distanced itself from He’s gene-editing work. The scientist had been on leave since February, the institution has said, stressing that it had no knowledge of his controversial research.
He sent shockwaves through the global scientific community last week with his claim that he’d used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of a pair of twin girls. He, who said he was “proud” of his work, also revealed that a second pregnancy was underway related to his research.
He Jiankui just uploaded this video announcing his lab's achievement: the first-ever birth of CRISPR-modified babies, a pair of twin girls named Lulu and Nana. In it, he denounces "designer babies" and declares his willingness to accept criticism. https://t.co/Tu8IcgfkXP pic.twitter.com/8vaPiPB4kb
— Daniel Sinclair (@_DanielSinclair) November 26, 2018
He’s experiment was met with widespread condemnation and skepticism, with scientists and other experts questioning both the ethical implications and the scientific soundness of his work.
Chinese authorities said Thursday that He’s research had “blatantly violated China’s relevant laws and regulations.”
“It has also violated the ethical bottom line that the academic community adheres to. It is shocking and unacceptable,” Xu Nanping, a vice minister for science and technology, told state broadcaster CCTV.
China’s national health commission said it would “investigate and deal with any unlawful behavior” by He, The Guardian reported.