The Chinese government has announced new regulations on genomic technologies in response to a Chinese scientist's claim to have created genome-edited babies.
'It is very reasonable to set tight regulations on germline editing,' Dr Wei Wensheng, a molecular biologist at Peking University in Beijing, told Science Magazine. 'On paper, there is nothing wrong but in a practical sense, if it takes too long to get permissions, it could be a bottleneck that will slow down research.'
Each 'high-risk' trial – those involving genome editing, gene transfer and regulating gene expression – will need the approval of China's highest administrative authority. Low or medium risk research, which is yet to be defined, will need institutional and provincial approval. Possible grounds for rejection include breaches of informed consent, unclear sources of funding and conflicts of interest.
Scientists found to have breached the new laws will face penalties including warnings, fines, lifetime bans from research and even criminal charges.
The regulations follow the widespread condemnation of Dr He Jiankui, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen who in November 2018 claimed to have used CRISPR/Cas9 to edit the DNA of embryos which were subsequently implanted, giving rise to genome-edited twins (see BioNews 977).
'Now the industry will develop at a slower pace,' Professor Kehkooi Kee from Tsinghua University in Beijing told Associated Press. 'The government will be more cautious with research funds, and private organisations, such as charities and startups, will be less likely to invest.'
These draft laws are open to comments from citizens until the 27 March, however, no date for them to come into effect has been announced.