Friday October 18, 2019
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China Starts Investigation After Scientists Claims To Edit Genes In Babies

The Scientist said he began his work in the second half of 2017 and enrolled eight couples.

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China, gene
He Jiankui speaks during an interview at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province. VOA

Chinese health and medical ethics authorities started an investigation on Monday into claims by a scientist who released videos on YouTube saying he had altered the genes of twins born earlier this month, creating the first gene edited babies.

The Southern University of Science and Technology in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, where the scientist, He Jiankui, holds an associate professorship, said it had been unaware of the research project and that He had been on leave without pay since February.

He Jiankui defended what he claimed to have achieved, saying he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection with the AIDS virus.

c-section, postpartum depression, gene
A newborn, one of 12 babies born by C-section, cries inside an incubator at the Bunda Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 12, 2012. VOA

But his university said it was a “serious violation of academic ethics and standards” and scientists around the world condemned it as monstrous and dangerous.

The university issued a statement after He said in five videos posted on Monday that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genes of twin girls.

China’s National Health Commission said it was “highly concerned” and had ordered provincial health officials “to immediately investigate and clarify the matter”.

“We have to be responsible for the people’s health and will act on this according to the law,” it said in a statement.

Shenzhen’s medical ethics committee said it was investigating the case. The Guangdong provincial health commission was also looking into it, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, a state media outlet.

China, genes
China’s Southern University of Science and Technology It said He is on unpaid leave until 2021. Pixabay

He said in one YouTube video that the editing process, which he called gene surgery, “worked safely as intended” and that the resulting twins were “as healthy as any other babies.” It was impossible to verify the claims as He did not provide any written documentation of his research.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut-and-paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for disease. However, there are also concerns about its safety and ethics.

“If true, this experiment is monstrous,” said Julian Savulescu, a medical ethics specialist at Britain’s University of Oxford.

Kathy Niakan, an expert at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said: “If true…this would be a highly irresponsible, unethical and dangerous use of genome editing technology.”

China’s Southern University of Science and Technology It said He is on unpaid leave until 2021.

“Southern University of Science and Technology strictly requires scientific research to conform to national laws and regulations and to respect and comply with international academic ethics and standards,” it said.

Genes
He Jiankui defended what he claimed to have achieved, saying he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection. Wikimedia Commons

Asked for his comment on the university’s statement, He said he had been on voluntary leave for several years to focus on his research, without specifying dates.

In the videos, He defended his work, saying in one: “I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology. And I’m willing to take the criticism for them.”

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In an earlier email to Reuters, He said that he planned to share data about the trial at a scientific forum this week. He said he planned for it to also go “through the peer review process, and through a pre-print soon.” A pre-print is a publication of findings made before the research is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

In an earlier telephone interview and emails with Reuters, He said he was aiming to bestow on the gene edited babies “lifetime protection” against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

He said he began his work in the second half of 2017 and enrolled eight couples. All of the potential fathers involved were HIV-positive. Five chose to implant embryos, including the parents of the twin girls, identified only by the pseudonyms Mark and Grace. The babies’ names are Lulu and Nana, He said in one video. (VOA)

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The First All-Women Spacewalk is Set to Take Place This Week: NASA

According to NASA, The Spacewalk will last approximately six and a half hours

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Spacewalk
The Spacewalk will last approximately six and a half hours, according to NASA. Pixabay

The first all-woman spacewalk is set to take place this week itself as NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are scheduled to venture outside the International Space Station (ISS) on October 17 or October 18.

The spacewalk will last approximately six and a half hours, according to NASA.

“@Space_Station update: our first all-female spacewalk with @Astro_Christina and @Astro_Jessica will be Thursday or Friday to replace a faulty battery charge-discharge unit,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Tuesday.

Station managers decided to postpone previously planned spacewalks that had been set to install new batteries this week and next in order to replace the faulty power unit, called a Battery Charge/Discharge Unit (BCDU).

The BCDU failed to activate following the October 11 installation of new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s truss.

Spacewalk
The Spacewalk will last approximately six and a half hours, according to NASA. Pixabay

NASA said that the BCDU failure has not impacted station operations, safety of the crew, or the ongoing experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory, many in preparation for future human missions to the Moon and Mars.

However, the failed power unit does prevent a new lithium-ion battery installed earlier this month from providing additional station power.

An all-woman spacewalk, involving Koch and NASA astronaut Anne McClain, was originally scheduled for March.

But that spacewalk was scuttled because properly fitted spacesuits could not be readied in time for both astronauts, Space.com reported.

Spacewalk
An all-woman Spacewalk, involving Koch and NASA astronaut Anne McClain, was originally scheduled for March. Pixabay

So far, the 15 women who have conducted a spacewalk did so with a male companion. So when Koch and Meir venture out of the space station this week, they will make some long-overdue history.

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This will be Koch’s fourth spacewalk and Meir’s first. (IANS)