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Jail Sentence Imposed

He Jiankui, the researcher who announced a little more than a year ago that he edited the genomes of twin girls as embryos, has been sentenced by a Chinese court to three years in prison, the New York Times reports.

In November 2018, He announced that he had used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to alter the CCR5 genes of twin girls as embryos in a move to protect them from becoming infected with HIV. This revelation was met with criticism from researchers across the globe, including the University of Sydney's Greg Neely who told New Scientist at the time that it was "totally inappropriate." Additionally, more than a hundred researchers in China condemned the work, saying in a letter that it was that it was a "huge blow to the global reputation and development" of Chinese research.

In an initial investigation, officials in China concluded that He conducted the gene-editing project illegally, as the state news agency Xinhua reported last January. The investigation found that He avoided supervision of his work, forged an ethical review certificate, and pursued this work for "personal fame and gain."

It now reports that He and two others were convicted of illegal medical practice, as none of them were qualified medical doctors, and have been sentenced to three years in jail and fined 3 million yuan, or about $430,000. It notes that the three pleaded guilty.

"I think a jail sentence is the proper punishment for him," Wang Yuedan, an immunology professor at Peking University, tells the Times. "It makes clear our stance on the gene editing of humans — that we are opposed to it."

The Times adds that researchers in the US who knew of He's pursuit are also under investigation, including Rice University's Michael Deem, He's former PhD advisor.