Chinese researcher claims to have made 1st genetically edited babies

ABC News' Dr. Jennifer Ashton breaks down the claim from the researcher, He Jiankui, who says he altered the DNA of twin girls.
5:31 | 11/26/18

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Transcript for Chinese researcher claims to have made 1st genetically edited babies
Now to the "Gma" cover story, those claims overnight that the world's first genetically edited babies have been born. Of course, there is a lot of controversy around this claim. Now this kind of gene surgery is banned in so many countries, the scientist behind the procedure says it was intended to protect the babies from future HIV infection. Erielle reshef, you have our attention. This is a big story, robin. Good morning to you. This Chinese doctor championing this as a breakthrough saying his goal was to create resistance to HIV. If the claims are proven true, it would be a profound and highly controversial leap in science and in ethics. Reporter: Overnight, an astonishing and dubious claim. A scientist in China saying he created the world's first genetically engineered babies. Two beautiful Chinese girls, lulu and Nana, came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies. Reporter: The team of geneticists and fertility specialists announcing the so-called breakthrough on YouTube. According to those researchers, they used a controversial gene editing technology to manipulate the twins' data. The purpose, not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but something else entirely, supposedly giving these twin girls the ability to resist HIV infection. The gene surgery worked safely. No gene was changed except the one to prevent HIV infection. Reporter: Seven couples were involved in the fertility treatments. All the potential fathers have HIV. The potential mothers did not. The scientist says the intention was not to prevent transmission, but instead to protect the child from being infected with HIV in the future. They are gathering to discuss the implications and we are told this. I think it's a break from what was recommended by the report released by the national academy of sciences last year in 2017 that encouraged and opened a transparent approach to any clinical use of human embryo editing that would involve careful establishment of a process, and following guidelines that were put in place by an international consortium of scientists and I don't think this appears to have been done in this case. Reporter: There has been no independent confirmation of the doctor's claim, but it has been widely condemned by saying it was a dangerous precedent. This experimentation is illegal here in the U.S. And most other countries. Dr. Ashton is here now. Do tell. This is not a new technology, and with this story it's not a question of whether this could be done at all. It's a question of if, when, why and how? Let me tell you about this technology. It's gene et did sitting. You take a strand of DNA which codes for genes and this crisper acts like scissors, removes the gene and this DNA heals itself. Whatever this gene codes for, a disease, a condition in theory, maybe even other things like hair color, is now gone. What are the possible benefits of this usage? The excitement about this, robin, is it can be used to treatment deadly diseases that are inherited like cystic fibrosis, even cataracts. The question here is whether you can use it for other things and what those things will be. It's actually being studied intensively for use of food and agriculture to make things less susceptible to virus's and things. Let's talk about the risk and the ethical debate. The risks and when you talk about this, you have to understand this is not perfect. There can be inaccuracy. It can miss the target. If you take a gene out, future generations can be affected and then you could wind up with a situation where you have a lot of people with a disability or not a disability and is there a result in stigma? And then if you really take this gene out on a widespread basis, will there be major inequalities that are now more emphasized. There are a lot of risks here, and when you tack about optional reasons, dark eyes and blonde hair, and then you get into a slippery slope and that's why for cosmetic reasons or nonlife threatening indications, this is not even being discussed. Especially about the gene research. Exactly, and here is historical context. In 2017 the national academy of sciences put out widespread recommendations and guidelines for this for which there was global agreement. They said this should not be done for something that there is already a treatment for like HIV reducing risk of that. It should only be done in life or death situations and caution should be used when doing this for human embryos. They didn't give it a green light. They gave it a yellow light, and when you put that into context here, that's why you are seeing so much major uproar. I have a quote for you because this is coming from all over the world including researchers and scientists in China. One professor from London is quoted as saying, this genome editing human embryos for HIV is premature, dangerous and irresponsible. We have not heard the end of this story. It is going to cause massive uproar in the scientific and medical community. Thank you. Thank you for that. Appreciate it.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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