It’s now clear that the human gene (DNA) can be changed or rather edited, all thanks to a Chinese scientist that is now facing a jail-term for his illegal research. Apparently, professor He Jiankui was conducting his gene-editing research even as numerous other scientists and medical professionals objected to this practice.

Jiankui announced the progress of his project in a video released back in 2018. Within the same year, two twins (Nana and Lula) whose DNA had been edited to give them resistance against HIV, were born. Reports also indicate that a third baby was also born at around the same time.

He Expected The Backlash

According to the scientist, his work was bound to attract some level of criticism, and he was prepared to brave it all. In a press release, he said that he understood that his work would attract negative attention but he was willing to take the criticism for the sake of the families that needed the gene-editing technology that he was developing. But he probably didn’t expect things to go much south as to warrant his arrest and prosecution by Chinese authorities.

The authorities ordered the research stopped and He was put under investigation. He used to work as an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, but he was fired after his research went public. In a press statement, the Chinese Academy of Science condemned He Jiankui’s actions, saying that it was strongly opposed to the practice of gene-editing. Jiankui has since been sentenced to 3 years in prison. He is also to pay a fine amounting to $430,000.

Gene Editing: Current International Status

Gene-editing is still a thorny issue in the scientific world, with various scientists still trying to fully understand the concept. One serious issue is that of consequence. For one, the long term effects of gene-editing are still a mystery, and many researchers fear that the mutations triggered in the process could be transferred to the subject’s offspring and end up changing the human race forever. When Jiankui’s research was examined by other researchers, they realized the effects of his gene-editing are unknown.

Research bodies as well as scientific institutions have since petitioned for a five-year ban on all gene-editing activity. Referring to He Jiankui’s work, a court in Shenzhen said that the people involved in the project conducted the gene-editing “in the pursuit of personal gain and had disrupted medical order.” It went on to claim that “they’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”