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Nobel Prize Winner Craig Mello Reportedly Aware Of He Jiankui's Gene-Edited Babies Long Before Experiment Became Public

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E-mails obtained by the AFP suggested Nobel laureate Craig Mello was long aware of He Jiankui's work on gene-edited babies. Mello objected to the project but remained scientific adviser to He’s Direct Genomics company.  ( Bengt Oberger | Wikimedia Commons )

Chinese scientist He Jiankui caught the world by surprise when he announced in November his work that led to the birth of the world's first gene-edited babies.

Aware Of He Jiankui's Gene-editing Experiment As Early As April

Long before this happened, the controversial researcher shared the news with a Nobel Prize winner, who objected to the work but remained an adviser to his biotech company.

According to emails obtained by the Associated Press, US Nobel laureate Craig Mello, of the University of Massachusetts, learned about the pregnancy as early as April when He sent him a message titled "Success!"

"I'm glad for you, but I'd rather not be kept in the loop on this," Mello replied to the email. "You are risking the health of the child you are editing."

Despite his objection to He's work, Mello remained a scientific adviser for He's Direct Genomics company for eight more months until December, after the birth of twin girls Lulu and Nana became public.

Mello, along with Andrew Fire, received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of RNA interference.

Mello declined for an interview but provided a statement through his university.  He said he had no idea of He's personal interest in human gene editing or had the means to pull off the experiment.

He reiterated his disapproval of the project and explained he resigned from the scientific advisory board of Direct Genomics' because he thinks that a company led by He, who now faces serious punishment because of the experiment, could no longer be effective.

Investigations by China's National Health Commission found that He's work is illegal. He's colleagues fear he could face the death penalty.

Controversial Work

He altered the genes of the twin girls so they would be protected from future HIV infection. The scientist faced a backlash from the scientific community because of his controversial work.

Scientists and ethicists are concerned over the repercussions of his work since the changes made to the children's DNA could be passed on to their future generations.

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