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Death Penalty Concerns

There are concerns that researcher He Jiankui, who announced the birth of twin girls who had been gene-edited as embryos, might face the death penalty, the Telegraph reports.

He announced in November that he had used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to alter the CCR5 genes in embryos from couples undergoing in vitro fertilization in which the father was HIV positive. This, He said, led to the birth of twin girls. He also announced during a presentation at the International Human Genome Editing Summit that another pregnancy was underway.

He's announcements led to broad disapproval and concerns about the both the ethics of his work and the science itself as well as sparked investigations. China announced it halted He's trials and said it would be investigating He's work, adding that it appeared that he might have violated Chinese laws and regulations.

At the end of December, the New York Times reported that He — who hadn't been seen in public since his presentation at the summit — appeared to be being kept under armed guard at a guesthouse on the Southern University of Science and Technology campus. There had been rumors He was under house arrest, though Southern University had denied them.

Added to this now are concerns from British researchers that He might be facing corruption and bribery charges, in addition to charges of violating research guidelines, the Telegraph reports. It adds that corruption and bribery charges in China can carry to the death penalty.

The Francis Crick Institute's Robin Lovell-Badge, who organized the gene-editing summit, condemned He's work, saying he endangered the children's lives, according to Reuters.

"Here you have a physicist who knows little biology, is very rich, [has] a huge ego, wants to be the first at doing something that will change the world," Lovell-Badge says, according to the Telegraph.