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I'm Ari Shapiro, and Mary Louise Kelley as we close out twenty eighteen we are revisiting some of the biggest stories this year, including a real shocker from the world of science, the Chinese researcher who claimed to have created the world's first, gene, edited babies NPR health, correspondent Rothstein covered that story for us. And he's back in the studio now to lay out why this was such a big deal, and what we should be looking for in two thousand nineteen. Hi, rob. Hey there so in a few sentences remind us who the scientist is and what he says he did. Yes. Sure. This was a real jaw dropper this nameless. Scientists heard Jen Kway he's from the Southern University of science and technology in Shenzhen China. And he claims he uses powerful new kind of genetic engineers notice crisper to create a pair of Jean edited twin girls, and he says he did it to protect them to enhance enhancer mute systems. They wouldn't get infected with HIV the. The virus a quiz aids. Sure. And this made scientists heads all over the world explode. Why? Well, many scientists think it may be okay someday. To edit the DNA in human embryos, and then use those embryos to create gene edited babies to prevent terrible genetic diseases. But right now, a lot of scientists say it's just too soon that it would be irresponsible and unethical to do that sort of thing. And the reason for that is it could be dangerous this canoe, gene, editing technology. It's really pro really promising. But it's really new and instead of fixing DNA it could end up introducing mutations DNA that could cause terrible genetic diseases for any offspring for generations to come. So there's the consequences for these twin girls their health any babies, they may have. But I mean, again, also these really big ethical questions that scientists are now wrestling absolutely, I mean, the idea of creating gene edited modified human beings has long been considered off limits, and the reason for that is you could consider it sort of playing God. I mean, you're basically trying to change the course of human evolution on a genetic level. And that raises all kinds of you know, scary kinda brave new world scenarios about designer babies and creating genetically superior super race of people. And that of course, raises all kinds of really profound philosophical, moral and ethical questions that society really has to work through before anyone takes that kind of leap. And some scientists think look the may never be a really good reason to go there is that way for you. This is the story that you're going to remember from two thousand eighteen I was wondering which you would pick of the gazillion stories that you've covered on the gazillion scientific advancements that come in any year. Oh, absolutely. I'm this is the sort of thing the scientists of long thought might be possible and maker someday. But of long feared that this technology would sort of unfold this way, I mean, as I said people think this is really promising could be revolutionary for medical research. But if it's misused or people jumped the gun, it could have some terrible ramifications for the future of science and the future of this research. And I remember as you were reporting. This story is broke that there was a big question Mark over whether the scientists had actually done it have we now established that for sure yet. No, they're still really big questions. I mean, he basically went rogue instead of having his experiments carefully vetted by other scientists like is usually done. He just announced a series of YouTube video. So no one really knows for sure that he did this. But people think he probably did have the wherewithal to do this. And the big question is why why did he do this and people have talked to over the last few weeks people who've worked with them in new him say, look he was a really bright guy really ambitious and kind of naive at the same time. And so he. I was trained in the United States who went back to China where he became a rising star in China. They've made a national priority to basically dominate this new genetic technology. So there are a lot of competitive pressures to basically move this stuff Ford, really fast and make a Mark. So it seems like he thought he might have been doing something historic and important something along the lines of the first IVF babies, and maybe he was kind of surprised that instead of being held as a scientific cure. Oh, he's now being considered a scientific pariah. And meanwhile, he's actually under investigation by the Chinese government. Right. Absolutely. And what about the twin girls are they doing? So that's the big question. I mean, this scientists he says their names are Lulu and Nana and he says their home in their healthy with their parents. But no one really knows. I mean as I said there's as people poured through what he's presented. It looks like instead of fixing their DNA and enhancing their mute systems to protect them from HIV. You might have missed his Mark. And just kinda messed up their DNA what that means for their health and wellbeing in the future. No-one really knows. Everyone's kind of holding their breath and crossing your fingers that these little girls were. Okay. So aside from that what else you watching in two thousand nineteen where does this go? Well, so that's you know, this has prompted a lot of real deep soul-searching the scientific community about you know, what does this say about the world's ability to police science. I mean, as I said crisper, and this genetic technology is really promising people are trying to use it to do all sorts of things. Some of those things are making people very nervous, like, gene editing, human embryos, may be creating genetic insects. So there's a lot of debate about how to regulate this stuff. And so people are saying, you know, maybe we should have a moratorium on doing anymore, gene editing experiments on human embryos until we've sorted this stuff out other people are saying, but that would be really bad for the future of this research. And so it was a big debate and also really hard to enforce. I guess really hard to enforce the World Health Organization is says it's going to step in and try to come up with some uniform international guidelines. But who knows if they really have the authority to do that sort of thing? NPR's rob Stein. Sounds a an interesting. Two thousand nineteen on the horizon, thanks for stopping by. Sure thing..

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