In light of the global outcry against disgraced researcher He Jiankui, China's Vice-Minister of Science and Technology has confirmed his ministry has ordered a halt to the condemned human gene-editing work.
He's announcement, which has not been verified due to the lack of written materials and He's silence in the matter, sparked an worldwide outcry about the ethnical and safety standards of such report.
Organizers of the conference called for an independent investigation to "verify this claim and to ascertain whether the claimed DNA modifications have occurred".
The Shenzhen government joined Guangdong provincial authorities in an investigative group on Tuesday.
The girls' father has HIV, but it is well controlled by medication, so they are at no greater chance of contracting the disease than any other child, says Kiran Musunuru, an associate professor and regenerative biology expert at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, taking place this week in Hong Kong, was supposed to be a gathering of researchers and medical professionals for the objective of furthering the scientific and ethical standards of genetic modification.
Robin Lovell-Badge, a professor of genetics and embryology at the Francis Crick Institute in London who moderated the session, asked a question that he said was on many attendees' minds. The National Health Commission has said Prof He's work "violates China's laws, regulations and ethical standards" and has said that investigations have been initiated.
He told the conference that eight couples - comprised of eight HIV-positive men and their HIV-negative wives - voluntarily signed up for the experimental procedure, but one couple had dropped out.
China isn't going to let research into gene-edited babies go any further.
"Scientists who go rogue ... it carries a deep, deep cost to the scientific community", Daley said.
Gene-editing technology had been used to immunise them from HIV, he claimed.
It was expected scientists and experts would produce a formal statement on gene editing, including what is acceptable and how trials can be regulated.
"This study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review", He said, but did not name the journal. Robin Lovell Badge, the summit's host and a biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in the United Kingdom, said He "was misguided and has taken wrong advice", adding that this is a step backwards, instead of a breakthrough. Scientists and ethicists have raised alarms about the secrecy of the project, and some denounced it as human experimentation. Baltimore criticized He's lack of transparency and referred to an agreement made at the 2015 conference that said it would be irresponsible to use such gene editing until safety issues had been dealt with.
Chinese bioethicist Zhai Xiaomei said the informed consent He posted on his laboratory's website did not comply with the worldwide community's consensus on genome editing.
He said the gene-editing procedure was performed on the embryo of the first woman to become pregnant, while treatment of the remaining six couples did not proceed because of the current situation. In other words, it's okay to edit the genome of an embryo, but that nascent human life must not be allowed to develop as a pregnancy and be born. "If we have this technology, we can make it available earlier".
He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China said he altered the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month to try to help them resist possible future infection with the AIDS virus-a dubious goal, ethically and scientifically.