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he jiankui in a light blue button up standing in front of a lab. The background is blurred

Since James Watson and Francis Crick first described the structure of the DNA double helix, scientists have debated the potential for creating genetically modified babies. In 2018, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui announced he had actually done it: He used a gene editing tool called CRISPR to edit the embryos of twin girls in hopes of making them resistant to H.I.V.

China’s laws governing reproductive medicine and gene editing were ill defined at the time. But outrage among scientists and the public led to Dr. He being sentenced to prison for three years on charges of “illegal medical practice,” under a broad statute, and denounced as pursuing “personal fame and profit.” China has since tightened its laws governing gene editing and fertility medicine. Dr. He moved too quickly, and failed to demonstrate that he actually protected the twins from H.I.V. Governments and the scientific community should develop clear legal frameworks to prevent rogue scientists from following in his footsteps.

I wrote a book about Dr. He’s experiment, and I’ve been speaking with him regularly since he was released... see more