A “profoundly unfortunate,” “ill-considered,” “epic scientific misadventure” that “flout[ed] international ethical norms” and was “largely carried out in secret” with “utterly unconvincing” justifications. Those are the words in a statement issued by Francis Collins, head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, in response to the claim by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, that he used CRISPR to genetically modify two embryos, resulting in the recent birth of twin girls.
The scathing condemnation from the typically measured NIH chief, who has done landmark genetic research himself, came hours after He first described his work at the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday. “The need for development of binding international consensus on setting limits for this kind of research, now being debated in Hong Kong, has never been more apparent,” Collins wrote.
The next day, the meeting’s prominent organizing committee—convened by academies of science and medicine from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong—issued its own statement about what it...