China reportedly halts research on gene-edited babies

The government said the medical team's actions were illegal and unacceptable, according to the AP.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou

Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong this week. 

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

China isn't going to let research into gene-edited babies go any further.

The Chinese government on Thursday ordered a halt to work by a medical team that claimed it had created the world's first gene-edited babies, according to The Associated Press.

Xu Nanping, China's vice minister of Science and Technology, told state-owned CCTV that his ministry is strongly opposed to the research and described the medical team's actions as illegal and unacceptable, according to the AP. Xu also reportedly said an investigation had been ordered.

On Sunday, Chinese scientist Jiankui He said he had successfully edited the genes of twin girls, releasing a recorded statement on YouTube about the breakthrough. He said the twin girls, "Lulu" and "Nana," were born healthy after their embryos were genetically modified to make them resistant to HIV infection. He later said more such babies may be on the way.

He and his team have faced international backlash over the use of CRISPR/Cas9 on humans because of the ethical questions such activity raises. CRISPR is a tool that can precisely cut-and-paste genes, allowing a part of DNA to be removed and replaced.

Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology, where He works, has reportedly begun an investigation into the experiment, as has a local medical ethics board

A message sent through Ministry of Science and Technology's website wasn't immediately answered. Neither were phone calls to China's embassy in the US. 

Neither He nor Southern University of Science and Technology responded to requests for comment.