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Chinese gene-editing scientist reportedly missing after altering DNA of human babies

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The researcher's whereabouts remain unknown amid rumors he was arrested after a speech in Hong Kong last week

Chinese scientist He Jiankui delivers a speech at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Wednesday. He has been missing since the conference. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese researcher Dr. He Jiankui is reportedly missing following his announcement last week that he altered the DNA blueprint of twin girls born last month. Rumors are swirling that Dr. He was arrested after making a speech at a gene-editing conference Wednesday in Hong Kong, but his former employer dismissed claims that the scientist has been detained by the government.

What are the details?

Dr. He made international headlines last week when he told The Associated Press that he used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-cas9 to modify the DNA of several embryos during fertility treatments, with the goal of making the babies resistant to HIV. According to He, seven couples participated in the research, with two children already born and more on the way.

Dr. He has been dubbed the "Chinese Frankenstein" and accused of unethical, premature activity for his secretive research. The National Institutes of Health said the work "represents a deeply disturbing willingness by Dr. He and his team to flout international ethical norms."

According to the Daily Mail, Dr. He is facing investigation from China's Ministry of Science and Technology, which ordered him to cease his research.

The South China Morning Post reported that numerous sources claimed He was being held under a sort of house arrest following his appearance at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last week. Since the conference, the Post reported, "his whereabouts have been unknown."

A spokeswoman for Dr. He's employer, the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, dismissed rumors that He has been detained.

"Right now nobody's information is accurate, only the official channels are," the spokeswoman said. "We cannot answer any questions regarding the matter right now, but if we have information, we will update through our official channels."

Anything else?

Dr. He is the latest high-profile Chinese citizen to have reportedly gone missing in recent months.

Former Interpol president and vice minister for the country's Ministry of Public Security Meng Hongwei disappeared in October while visiting his homeland; Chinese officials eventually admitted he had been detained, yet his whereabouts are still unknown.

Chinese megastar Fan Bingbing went missing in July amid a tax evasion scandal involving celebrities, but resurfaced three months later. The actress took to social media in early October to apologize and accept a 883 million yuan ($129 million) fine for her alleged offenses.

She praised the ruling Chinese Communist Party, saying to the BBC, "I completely accept all the penalty decisions made according to law, after the investigation done by tax authorities. I will follow the order, try my best to overcome difficulties, raise fund, pay taxes and fines."

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