Wednesday February 19, 2020
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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.”

Also Read: World’s First AI News Anchor Debuts From China

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)

Next Story

Australian Economy Could be Hit Hard by the Coronavirus

Know how coronavirus can have a negative impact on the Austalian economy and entertainment industry

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Australia economy coronavirus
According to economists, Australia could lose as much as $1 billion due to coronavirus outbreak. Pixabay

The outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China has quickly caused a crisis across the world. The virus has already been announced to pose a worldwide threat, but the biggest risk groups are the countries located close to China.

The toll has not been limited to those infected by the virus. The entire economy of the world is currently going through a major change, since China and its neighboring countries, including Australia, are such important players in the world trade. All the flights going in and out of China have been canceled and traveling, in general, has become much more dangerous, hence much less popular. The scope of the damages caused by the coronavirus has already stunted the economy of the region.

Economic losses for Australia

According to economists, Australia could lose as much as $1 billion due to this outbreak. The tourism sector has taken the biggest hit with these changes. The outbreak happened during the Chinese New Year, which is usually a huge time for international travel, but because of this outbreak, the traveling is limited, causing the countries that usually see a lot of action in ticket sales, a major loss. Even though 99% of coronavirus cases are registered in China, there are some singular cases outside of the country, in Australia as well, so the traveling is actually quite difficult, with some airlines completely shutting down their flights to prevent the virus from spreading.

Australia economy coronavirus
The outbreak has affected the businesses and services that operate in public areas, but most of all it is the entertainment industry in Australia that has suffered. Pixabay

What is also affecting China is that they have suspended all the trading, and for a lot of countries, especially for Australia, for which China is an extremely important trading partner, the access to a lot of imported goods has been limited.

The world has experienced outbreaks of a similar scale two times, during the swine flu (H1N1 Flu) in 2009, and SARS 2003, also originating from China. But this time around, having had experience with SARS, China reacted much more quickly than in the previous case, hopefully ensuring the better prevention of international contamination, but coronavirus is difficult to diagnose because it does not immediately show up, with varying symptoms, so a person could be carrying a virus without even knowing it for two weeks.

The effects on the entertainment industry

The outbreak has affected the businesses and services that operate in public areas, but most of all it is the entertainment industry that has suffered, because amidst the outbreak, not only do people have no time for these kinds of activities, but also most of them require being around a lot of people in smaller spaces.

Australia economy coronavirus
What is also affecting China is that they have suspended all the trading, and for a lot of countries, especially for Australia, for which China is an extremely important trading partner, the access to a lot of imported goods has been limited. Pixabay

Australia has one of the most famous gambling scenes, with two outstanding leaders in this industry located there, The Crown and Star, who rely on rich gamblers coming in from China.  So as on mainland China it is illegal to gamble the VIP gamblers come in Australia to get access to online gambling for real money and play here online pokies games. These establishments are already experiencing huge losses. The USB forecast even went on to say that these casinos will likely see a 50% drop in their income because of the outbreak. These casinos are a tourist destination as well, and considering the dangers that come with flying in the regions around China, these casinos are bound to have a pretty rough quarter.

The airline companies will also experience huge losses these following weeks and since we don’t know whether there will be a solution anytime soon, and how bad the coronavirus can get, these estimations could really grow, causing even bigger disruptions. The exact numbers could change in a matter of weeks, depending on how the virus behaves, but one thing is clear, the outbreak has greatly affected the economies around the world, and especially in the region. Australia is already recovering from the terrible bushfires that have destroyed a lot of Australia’s wildlife and facilities.

Also Read- Simple Blood Test May Help Improve Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer: Study

Now in addition to that, the country is experiencing the consequences of the virus outbreak and is feeling the results of the outbreak on its economy and financial sector, with tourism and entertainment, two for the huge parts of the Australian economy, taking the biggest hit.