The birth of Lulu and Nana – the first two children believed to be born with crisis-redirected DNA-triggered self-sufficiency in…
The birth of Lulu and Nana – the first two children believed to be born with crisis-redirected DNA-triggered self-sufficiency in China as technological innovators, scientific researchers and government agencies reconcile conflicting values.  At the first Chinese media festival Jiankui He, the scientist last week announced that he had edited the girls DNA. Some pundits even wondered whether a Nobel Prize could be on its way. But within a few hours the story began to turn, and the story that came across the mainland was one of caution and censorship. As Chinese scientists and technicians try to speed up ahead with innovative research, they are also reinvented by government officials who pay attention to ethical feelings in China and abroad.
About the news of the human embryo-redevelopment experiment reached predominantly scientist-readers in the United States, in China, its impact was significantly greater. On Weibo, a popular Chinese platform, 1
.9 billion people saw the hashtak “First Case of Reformed HIV Immune Brothers”. His research seemed to fit the script of “China Dream”, a claim for revolutionary scientific research and innovation issued by President Xi Jinping in 2017. This national policy aims at interfering with Western modernity with dreams of an Asian future.
Chinese scientists did not hope to praise Him. Some of them began to make charges on social media. Zhengzhong Qu, a China re-research scientist, criticized researchers using “marketing gimmicks” to become famous, a reference to his decision to post commercials of his work on YouTube. Qu also criticized He chose DNA edits, which were made to provide built-in HIV resistance to the girls. “This does not matter in clinical practice: there are already mature and effective techniques for protecting a baby from their parents’ HIV infections,” he wrote on WeChat. “More risk than useful in this case.”
The University of Science and Technology, where he is a professor, said it was “deeply shocked at this event” and launched an investigation. The government also weighted: “China has banned reproductive use of human embryo redevelopment,” said Nanping Xu, vice scientists and technicians.
To third parties, the response to His redirected children may look like a deviation from the fast-to-all-cost ethos that has seemed to characterize Chinese innovation in recent years. But a national rebranding campaign is under way. “Made in China,” a label associated with cheap shutdown, piracy and stolen intellectual property, is replaced by “Created in China.” The editing bar is an excellent example of how this dynamic plays.
Much of the action takes place in Shenzhen, the city where he works, which gave rise to the idea of ”Shenzhen Speed”. In the 1980s skyscrapers sprayed over the landscape faster than elsewhere in the world. Workers who sought better prospects for iPhone factories flocked to Shenzhen from rural areas in China.
The huge speed comes with a cost. The city’s own development has been hampered by an obsession with progress: In 2015, 17 buildings collapsed dramatically when a landslide of construction waste buried industrial buildings and workplaces. The risk of negligent redirection may be even greater.
Yet, Shenzhen Speed has applied to the tactics of biotechnology – the redesign of life itself. Chinese synthetic biologists have used Crispr to produce micro-pigs, humanized monkeys and large-scale dogs. A Shenzhen company named BGI, claiming to be the largest genomics organization in the world, is an important player in DNA sequencing. BGI has ambitions to sequestrate every person and all forms of life and strives to move “to writing, from design to synthesis”.
But some of the brave language has become tempered in the wake of the Crispr baby’s scandal. “We must be very careful not to do this kind of thing,” said BGI’s Deputy Director Xin Liu. Together with 53 other Chinese biotechnology companies, BGI issued a joint statement: “We must avoid the absolute pursuit of rapid success in innovation and development, and rather work to strengthen the industry’s self-discipline.” These companies now say that they strive to “make life science and technology really beneficial to humanity.”
Genetic experimentation on human embryos continues in China (and elsewhere) – but now only for research purposes. At a Hong Kong Executive Review Summit last week, Junjiu Huang, biologist from Sun Yat-sen University, discussed how he cloned human embryos and repaired a defective gene that caused beta talassemia, a blood problem. But Huang finished his speech with a strong condemnation of “any application of human embryonic reprocessing for reproductive purposes. Such intervention is against China’s law, regulation and medical ethics.”
Huang himself triggered the controversy in April 2015 when he used Crispr to create the world’s first redesigned embryo. That event triggered outbreaks internationally, but only received a subdued response in China. Secular Chinese ethics is based on Confucians’ thought, which assumes that a person becomes a person after birth, not earlier. So Huang was ready, but when he was allowed to edit embryos to be born, he crossed an ethical line. Law about redirection was confusing in China before attempting, but officials quickly introduced new rules. The government has now banned reproductive use of Crispr, while saying that basic embryonic research will continue.
A bioscientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renzong Qiu, called on the Summit to “protect the future child’s interest” and asked the Chinese government to develop “special rules for the implementation of human reproduction review.” This would entail a licensing system and ethical guidelines to prevent eugenic use of the technology.
Asian innovations in biotechnology redefine opportunities for the rest of the world. After the first spark of fear in response to Huang’s Crispr-edited embryos faded away, researchers in the United States and Europe quit with similar studies.
Jennifer Doudna, UC-Berkeley biochemist credited as one of the detectives of Crispr, says that the current kerfuffle can play in a similar way. “Two years from now, let’s say if those girls are healthy … People will look back in retrospect and they will say,” Perhaps the process was not correct, but the outcome could be good. “”