While we all tacitly agree not to think about the many secret Island of Doctor Moreau-style genetic research labs hidden throughout the world creating horrible genetic hybrids and superhumans as we speak, last week’s very public announcement of the successful births of two twins whose genes were altered using CRISPR/Cas-9 shocked the world due to its brazenness. According to a video posted to YouTube, a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui claims to have modified the genomes of twin baby girls in order to make them completely resistant to HIV.
Within hours, the scientific community and journalists around the world began to criticize the experiment as reckless and dangerous, even going so far as to call He the “Chinese Frankenstein.” Harvard and MIT’s David Liu, one of the inventors of CRISPR techniques, called the experiment “an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society,” adding he hopes “it never happens again.” Who knew tampering with the genetic makeup of living human beings would be so controversial? Aside from, you know, everyone. Aside from the criticism, the story of He Jiankui and the genetically modified twins has taken a turn for the strange this week when the researcher seems to have gone mysteriously missing. Where could He be?
There are conflicting reports about He’s whereabouts and Chinese news outlets are predictably tight-lipped about the matter. When asked about the geneticist, a spokeswoman for the Southern University of Science and Technology where He was an employee gave a rather enigmatic statement:
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.
Of course, their official channels have not been updated. In the meantime, He’s laboratory has been shut down by Chinese authorities who stated that “clinical procedures of gene-editing on human embryos for reproduction purposes are explicitly banned in China.” Is He merely in hiding to avoid all of the negative press and criticism from the entire scientific community, or has he been disappeared in classically Chinese fashion for causing the Middle Kingdom to lose face? Until – or if – this “Chinese Frankenstein” resurfaces, this one will remain a mystery.
Ah, who are we kidding? He’s organs have already been harvested in the back of a mobile execution van. Such is the price of scientific “progress.”