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He Jiankui
Chinese researcher He Jiankui discusses his lab’s effort to produce babies whose genes have been altered to protect them from future HIV infection. (The He Lab via YouTube)

Chinese researcher He Jiankui, who stirred up a global controversy last year when he said his experiment produced twin baby girls with gene-edited traits, has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $430,000 fine, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.

  • He tried to show that genes could be edited to reduce vulnerability to the HIV virus, but outside experts voiced deep doubts about the experiment’s efficacy as well as the ethics behind it. The scientist dropped out of public view shortly after he revealed the birth of the gene-edited babies, code-named Lulu and Nana, at a Hong Kong genetics conference in November 2018.
  • Xinhua said a court in the southern city of Shenzhen ruled that He conducted the experiment illegally. Two other researchers from institutes in Guangdong Province, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, were hit with jail terms of up two years, plus fines. The defendants were also banned from providing human assisted reproductive services.
  • Xinhua’s Chinese-language report confirmed that a third gene-edited baby was born to a different mother. Based on He’s previous statements, MIT Technology Review said that pregnancy was likely to have come to term last summer. There’s been no information about the condition of that baby and mother, or about the current condition of Lulu, Nana and their parents.
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