11. There is no way to tell whether He’s work did any good.
Both Nana and Lulu will be monitored at least until they turn 18. But “the children were already at virtually no risk of contracting HIV,” said Alta Charo, a bioethicist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in a statement. This means that “there is no way to evaluate if this indeed conferred any benefit. If they remain HIV-negative, there is no way to show it has anything to do with the editing.”
At the Hong Kong summit, He was asked whether the two children would be treated differently by their parents, who will know that they have been edited. “I don’t know how to answer this question,” He said.
12. He has doubled down.
If He shows any contrition about how these events have unfolded, it has not been obvious. Speaking at the Hong Kong summit, he apologized, but only because news about his work “leaked unexpectedly” before he could present it in a scientific venue. That, He said, took away from the community. Regarding the experiment itself, he said: “I feel proud.”
13. Scientific academies have prevaricated.
In the wake of He’s bombshell, several scientists, including the CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang and the stem-cell biologist Paul Knoepfler, have called for a temporary moratorium on similar experiments. By contrast, after the news first broke, the organizing committee of the Hong Kong summit, which includes representatives from scientific academies in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States, released a bland statement in which it simply restated the conclusions from its earlier report. A second statement, released after the summit, was stronger, calling He’s claims “deeply disturbing” and his work “irresponsible.”
Read: A reckless and needless use of gene editing on human embryos
But the second statement still discusses the creation of more gene-edited babies as a goal that should be worked toward. The risks are “too great to permit clinical trials of germ-line editing at this time,” it says, but “it is time to define a rigorous, responsible translational pathway toward such trials.” George Daley from Harvard Medical School, who was one of the meeting’s co-organizers, made similar points during the event itself. Given that the world is still grappling with the implications of what has happened, “no, it’s not time yet and it’s tone-deaf to say so,” says Hank Greely.
“Although the chair opened the summit by invoking Huxley’s Brave New World, few of the discussions at the meeting, and nothing in the concluding statement, suggest a meaningful engagement with social consequences,” says the Center for Genetics in Society, a watchdog group.
14. A leading geneticist came to He’s defense.
In an interview with Science, George Church, a respected figure from Harvard and a CRISPR pioneer, said that he felt “an obligation to be balanced about” the He affair. Church suggested that the man was being bullied and that the “most serious thing” about his experiment was “that he didn’t do the paperwork right.” “[Church’s] comments are incredibly irresponsible,” says Alexis Carere, who is president-elect of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors. “If someone contravenes the rules that we have laid down, we are very justified in speaking out about it. The unfortunate effect of this is that it makes it seem like there is some kind of balance, and George is just in the middle. There is not.”