On Sunday, Nov. 25, the scientist He Jiankui claimed the birth of the world’s first genetically engineered children: twins, created by IVF, their DNA altered at fertilization. Changes like these, because they’re inheritable – “editing the germline” – are widely prohibited by law and avoided by scientific consensus. If He really did this, it’s a very big step across a very bright line.
Also, He announced the feat in a YouTube video.
The strangeness of this choice cannot be overstated. Groundbreaking achievements normally appear in prestigious journals, with extensive data, after rigorous peer review. Announcing the accomplishment on YouTube is the social media equivalent of walking out the front door and yelling, “Guess what, everybody? I’m the first to engineer a human being! And the kids are already here – they’re twins!” The timing of the video’s release – on the eve of a major international conference on genome editing, where He was scheduled to speak – clearly had more to do with publicity than science.