When a researcher in China startled the world earlier this week with the revelation that he had created the first gene-edited babies, only one prominent scientist quickly spoke out in his defense: geneticist George Church, whose Harvard University lab played a pioneering role in developing CRISPR, the genome editor used to engineer embryonic cells in the hugely controversial experiment. Church has reservations about the actions of He Jiankui, the scientist in Shenzhen, China, who led the work.
The fiercely debated experiment, described by He at a meeting in Hong Kong, China, today, used CRISPR to try to make the babies resistant to HIV by crippling a receptor, CCR5, that the virus uses to infect white blood cells. But Church also thinks there’s a frenzy of criticism surrounding He that exaggerates the severity of what one critic gingerly called his “missteps” but another called “monstrous.”
ScienceInsider spoke with Church shortly before He’s lecture in Hong Kong, but Church had seen the data earlier. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.