In November 2018, at a gene-editing “summit” hosted by scientific societies from the U.S., the U.K., and Hong Kong, a Chinese researcher announced that he had created the world’s first genetically modified babies. He Jiankui fully expected to be celebrated for a scientific breakthrough; he mentioned the Nobel Prize. Instead, he was almost universally condemned. 

Key figures associated with the U.S. National Academies and U.K. Royal Society joined in the criticism but did not reject heritable genome editing. Instead, they objected to the Chinese researcher’s timing. It was too soon, they said. It hadn’t been done as they thought it should have been. But according to the researcher now being called a “rogue,” it was the National Academies’ 2017 report that had given him the green light for his experiments.

In the aftermath of this headline-grabbing debacle, the scientific societies decided on a do-over. They declared it time to “define a rigorous, responsible translational pathway” toward clinical use of heritable genome editing. They set up a carefully selected international commission with the mandate to map the scientific details... see more