The Chinese scientist who created the world’s first genetically edited babies is living under armed guard and could face the death penalty, colleagues believe.
He Jiankui shocked the world in November when he announced he had altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment to protect them against contracting HIV, leading to the birth of two twin girls with engineered DNA.
Since then he has received death threats and the Chinese government has launched an investigation into his work. He has been confined to a state owned apartment in the city of Shenzhen since December.
Scientists in Britain who have been in touch believe he could face charges for corruption and bribery which in China can incur the death penalty. He also broke guidelines, which ban genetically altered embryos being implanted into a human, which experts say are as legally binding as laws.
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Francis Crick Institute in London who organised the genetics summit in Hong Kong where the finding was announced said: “All the reports suggest he is an university owned apartment and there are a quite a number of guards. It’s not clear whether he’s under guard, meaning house arrest or the guards are there to protect him. I suspect both.
“Quite a few people have lost their heads for corruption.”
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