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Image of He Jiankui

The hubris of some scientists knows no bounds. Less than a year after He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysicist, drew scorn and censure for creating gene-edited twins, Denis Rebrikov, a Russian molecular biologist, boldly announced his plan to follow in He’s genome editing footsteps. Rebrikov’s initial stated goal for his proposed research was to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected women to their offspring, though he later suggested other targets, including dwarfism, deafness, and blindness.

In 1998, Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi suggested that resistance to HIV infection was a genetic enhancement that might appeal to potential parents. Twenty years later, in November 2018, He revealed his use of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to disable a gene called CCR5 in an attempt to create children with resistance to HIV.

He’s research activities were known to a number of senior American scientists, all of whom elected to remain silent about his work. It was only after the twins’ birth that the world learned of this secret science. Matthew Porteus, one of the scientists who was complicit in the silence, summarized his promise...