The colleagues of the Chinese scientist responsible for the birth of the world's first genetically edited babies fear that he could face the death penalty.
Birth Of Babies With Modified DNA
He Jianku revealed in November that he used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment. The work led to the birth of two twin girls whose DNA were engineered to protect them from contracting the AIDS-causing HIV.
Amid the controversy caused by his work, He went missing in Early December, suggesting the embattled scientist is facing big trouble. Now, a fellow geneticist revealed He's predicament could be worse than earlier thought.
Robin Lovell-Badge, a geneticist from the Francis Crick Institute in London, said He could face the death penalty in China. Lovell-Badge organized the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong, where He admitted modifying human embryos.
Scientists close to the situation said that He could face corruption and bribery charges, both of which carry the death penalty in China. They also fear the rogue scientist may face charges of violating established research guidelines by implanting the engineered embryos in the mother instead of destroying them, according to guidelines. State guidelines in China carry the same legal weight as the established laws.
"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," Lovell-Badge said. "Quite a few people have lost their heads for corruption."
Protected By Armed Guards
Lovell-Badge said that He has been living with armed guards since early December, when he was reported missing.
It isn't clear, though, if the scientist is under house arrest or simply protected by the guards since he has received death threats following his revelation of involvement in the birth of CRISPR-modified human babies.
Ethicists and the scientific community accused He of experimenting on humans with a dangerous technology. They fear that the changes made on the DNA of the babies could be passed on to their next generations.