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China orders probe after scientist claims first gene-edited babies

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SHANGHAI/LONDON Chinese health and medical ethics authorities started an investigation on Monday into claims by a scientist who released videos on YouTube saying he had altered the genes of twin girls born earlier this month, creating the first genetically edited babies.

The Southern University of Science and Technology in the Chinese city of Shenzhen - where the scientist, Associate Professor He Jiankui, works - said it had been unaware of the research project and Prof He had been on unpaid leave since February.

Prof He defended what he claimed to have achieved, saying he had performed the gene editing to help protect the babies from future infection with HIV.

But his university said it was a "serious violation of academic ethics and standards", and scientists globally condemned him.

The university issued a statement after Prof He said in five videos posted on Monday that he used a gene-editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9 .

It allows scientists to essentially cut and paste DNA. There are concerns about its safety and ethics.

China's National Health Commission said it was "highly concerned" and had ordered provincial health officials "to immediately investigate and clarify the matter".

Shenzhen's medical ethics committee said it was investigating the case.

Prof He said in one video the editing process "worked safely as intended" and the twins were "as healthy as any other babies". He did not provide written documentation of his research.

"If true, this experiment is monstrous," said ProfessorJulian Savulescu, a medical ethics specialist at the University of Oxford.- REUTERS

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