Stanford University confirmed last week that it had launched an independent investigation into three members of its faculty who had been in talks with He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who received worldwide disapproval when he announced in November that he had produced the first genetically modified babies.
Chinese authorities have released a preliminary investigation into He's work in January, according to the Xinhua News Agency. According to the report, he circumvented the regulations, avoided supervision, forged ethical review documents, raised funds and organized a research team outside his academic lab to edit the genes for human embryos for the purpose of reproduction, a scientific act explicitly prohibited in China. As soon as the report was released, the directors sacked him from his position at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen.
Many famous American scientists knew or strongly suspected what he was doing. He did postdoctoral research at Stanford University and three professors: Stephen Quake, his former adviser; William Hurlbut, bioethicist; and Matthew Porteus, genetic expert – kept in touch with the young scientist after returning to China to begin work in Shenzhen, Review of MIT technology reported.
Hurlbut and Porteus said that they were aware of his interest in gene editing in babies and had discouraged him from doing so, but Hurlbut said he was strongly suspected of continuing his plans of any kind. way.
Rice University of Houston is studying interactions with Michael Deem, professor of bioengineering and former consultant. He also e-mailed Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts to announce the pregnancy of genetically modified babies. Mello served as scientific advisor to the company He Direct Genomics (not involved in gene editing) until his resignation in December, just after He announced the birth of gene edited binoculars.
The situation raises ethical questions about the degree of responsibility that scientists should assume in monitoring one another. Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota, said scientists who knew his intentions seemed to be adopting a culture of silence: "There seem to have been many lost opportunities." –J.B.