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Which Way to Go

The international research community is trying to decide how to prevent gene-editing work many consider to be past the bounds of propriety, the New York Times reports.

The discussion has become more urgent after researcher He Jiankui announced in November the birth of twin girls whose genomes he had edited as embryos. He's work was broadly condemned and has led to various investigations, including one that this week announced preliminary findings that He had violated laws.

He had spoken to a few researchers about his plans, including some in the US, who say they tried to dissuade him, and weren't sure to what agency they should report their concerns, the Times reports. The incident has led calls for a moratorium on gene-editing of human embryos, barring journals from publishing such work, or developing an international commission, but a consensus on which or which ones to pursue hasn't yet been reached, the Times adds.

Last month, the US National Academy of Medicine's Victor Dzau, the US National Academy of Sciences' Marcia McNutt, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Chunli Bai called on the international research community to develop criteria and standards for germline editing. Additionally, the World Health Organization has said it would be setting up an expert panel to study the ethical and safety issues of gene editing.

The Times notes that the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang has backed a five-year moratorium for public discussion, while the University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna is pushing for international standards and getting journals to agree not to publish such work.