Gene Editing: Chinese Scientist He Jiankui Goes Missing, Reported Under House Arrest

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a Chinese scientist who claimed to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies.

He Jiankui appeared in Hong Kong last week at the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing and has not been seen since.

He was called “China’s Frankenstein” after he released a video on YouTube in which he claimed that his team had modified the embryos of two sisters to switch off an HIV-related gene because their father had the virus.

GettyImages-1066317384 He Jiankui at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, on November 28. His whereabouts are unknown since the summit took place. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

The claim sparked controversy and criticism among the medical community. Scientists said implanting such an embryo was a boundary that should not be crossed until the associated risks were known and eliminated.

"No one expected that someone would do this experiment on a human embryo," Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of the gene-editing technology CRISPR and member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told CNN.

"The scientific community didn't actually know anything about what was going on."

Chinese authorities have opened an "immediate investigation" and ordered those involved in the project to suspend their activities. Last week, Chinese authorities denounced the research as "extremely abominable in nature" and in violation of the country's laws and science ethics, Xinhua reported.

The scientist was brought back to Shenzhen by the university's president, Chen Shiyi, Apple Daily reported. Chen is under house arrest on campus, the report said, adding that there were security guards on the university grounds.

However, a spokeswoman for the Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology batted away reports of police arrests, telling the South China Morning Post, “Right now nobody’s information is accurate, only the official channels are.

“We cannot answer any questions regarding the matter right now, but if we have any information, we will update it through our official channels.”

He is facing an investigation by China's Ministry of Science and Technology, which has ordered him not to do any more research, the SCMP reported.

He was born in Hunan province to a farming family and graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China with a physics degree.

He switched to biophysics studying at Rice University in Houston, where he first worked with CRISPR.

Join the Discussion