The twin girls are known as Lulu and Nana, and if a Chinese scientist is correct, they are the world's first babies born with edited genes. Researcher He Jiankui says he tweaked embryos with CRISPR technology in the hope of making the resulting infants naturally resistant to HIV, reports the AP. He's claims have not been independently confirmed, and he's keeping a lid on details about the infants' identities. He revealed the details to the AP ahead of an international conference on gene editing in Hong Kong, and also talked about his work in this video. Prior to the AP interview, MIT Technology Review found Chinese medical documents online this month revealing details about the study, including the recruitment of couples willing to take part. The development is a hugely controversial one, given the debate over "designer babies."
"I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," He tells the AP. "Society will decide what to do next" in terms of embracing similar research or imposing restrictions. That sentiment countered quotes like this one from Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California: "This is far too premature. We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It's a big deal." The development, if confirmed, would be a "stunning medical achievement," per MIT, though one fraught with ethical concerns. The CRISPR-cas9 editing tool has been used on adults, but any changes in those cases are restricted to the test subject. Editing embryos is a different matter, explains the AP, because any changes could be passed on to children. (Could CRISPR help conquer cocaine addiction?)