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Controversial Gene Editing Physicist Missing

(KPIX 5) – A Chinese scientist with Bay Area ties is reportedly missing, just days after unveiling a controversial genetic experiment.

Last week, scientist He Jiankui sparked a flurry of debate over DNA editing after claiming to use CRISPR gene editing to alter the genetic codes of twin baby girls.

He claimed to change the twins' DNA to make them resistant to HIV. The scientist also claimed another pregnancy could be in the works.

The disclosures prompted an international outcry. Chinese health officials promptly condemned the physicist and the Chinese government ordered He to halt his work last Thursday.

He was last seen at the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong last Wednesday.

The South China Morning Post reports that the researcher's employer is dismissing claims he was detained, saying reports are "not accurate right now."

At last week's summit, He outlined his future plans for the experiment.

"The plan to monitor the twins' health over the next 18 years. With the hope that they will consent, as adults, for continued monitoring and support," He said.

He was trained at Stanford University and reportedly warned a scientist at UC Berkeley about his gene-editing plans.

Marcy Darnovsky of the Berkeley-based Center for Genetics and Society said He's project was unnecessary and "unconscionable."

"As we think about what has happened here, it's important not to scapegoat this one scientist, even though what he did was wrong and unconscionable and reckless," Darnovsky said. "I think we also have to look in the mirror at ourselves and our country and our scientists. Because some of the things that they have been doing, I think really encouraged this risky behavior on the part of this Chinese researcher."

Darnovsky said He's work is a hasty use of the technology and can open up the door for a future of so-called "genetic inequality" among people.

Chinese media speculate He is being kept under house arrest.

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