Rice University To Open A ‘Full Investigation’ Into CRISPR Baby Project

One of the researchers involved is Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University.

An image of Rice University
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One of the researchers involved is Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University.

As news breaks of the Chinese scientist who genetically altered the DNA of babies in an effort to make them more resistant to the HIV virus, Rice University announces that it will open a “full investigation” into a staff member who was also involved in the study.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, a Chinese scientist has helped create the world’s first genetically edited babies. He Jiankui, of Shenzhen, used the CRISPR-cas9 to genetically alter the DNA of a set of twin girls. The research involved editing the genes of embryos from seven couples. Of those altered embryos, only one resulted in a pregnancy.

As stated by Associated Press, these claims have not yet been independently corroborated. In addition to this, the parents of the genetically edited twins have declined to be interviewed or to reveal details of their location.

Normally, gene editing of this scale is deemed illegal in the U.S. due to ethical concerns. In addition to the ethical reasons, there is also concern that altering the genetics of embryos could lead to further unforeseen consequences. For example, those who are “without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from the flu,” according to AP.

While the genetic manipulation of DNA is outlawed in the U.S., in China, gene editing is not specifically outlawed. Although, they do have restrictions on human cloning.

According to STAT, Rice University is now investigating one of their own faculty members who was one of the researchers involved in the Chinese study.

Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University, had admitted that he was involved with the Chinese research project, which carries with it pretty serious implications both for himself and the fact that he is associated with Rice University.

The university has said publically in a statement that they had no knowledge prior to the announcement of Deem’s involvement, according to CBS News.

“This research raises troubling scientific, legal and ethical questions,” the university said in their statement.

They also stated that the research had “seriously violated academic ethics and standards.”

“Regardless of where it was conducted, this work as described in press reports, violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University.”

As well as Deem’s involvement in the research, He Jiankui had also previously studied at Rice University before returning to China and opening a lab at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen.