Scholars call for probe into NgAgo claims

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/12 0:08:39

Chinese biologists reiterate doubts over validity of genome editing study

A number of Chinese scientists have announced publicly that they cannot replicate the breakthrough genome editing technology NgAgo discovered by a Hebei-based researcher, Han Chunyu, urging to investigate his team for the sake of "reputation of Chinese scientists." 

After months of study, 13 biologists including Wei Wensheng and Sun Yujie from Peking University's School of Life Science, and other biologists from prestigious institutes such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhejiang University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said publicly that they cannot replicate Han's results, and called on Han to publicize his raw data.

Han, 42, an associate professor at Hebei University of Science and Technology (HUST), discovered how to use the bacterial enzyme NgAgo to replicate and edit DNA and published his findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology on May 2.

According to the university, NgAgo is the first Chinese-invented top-notch biotechnology, breaking the foreign monopoly on genome editing processes. The technology has extensive applications for agriculture and medicine, including in gene therapy for diseases like AIDS and hepatitis B.

The scholars hope authorities will launch an academic investigation into the university and related departments to protect the reputation of Chinese scientists, Sun Yujie, an assistant professor, told the Global Times on Tuesday, adding that they have not received any response from authorities as of press time.

Han's discovery was highly praised in China after the publication of the findings, which some media said was worthy of a Nobel Prize.

Han was also elected Vice President of the Hebei Association for Science and Technology in July. The HUST also received a provincial government funding of 224 million yuan ($33 million) to establish a genome editing technology research center on August 9.

However, an increasing number of domestic and foreign biologists said they could not replicate the findings released in July. Among them are Gaetan Burgio, head of the transgenesis lab at Australian National University, who rescinded his previous statement that using NgAgo to edit gene fragments in mice was efficient.

The reasons why other biologists have failed to replicate the findings couldn't be fully determined at present and it could probably be due to contamination of research material, Han told the Beijing-based newspaper Science and Technology Daily on Saturday.

In August, Han had told the Global Times that foreign scientists' accusations reveal their motive of ganging up against NgAgo. He had also expressed his willingness to share his raw data and testing conditions.

Facing the doubts, the HUST told Xinhua in August that Han would "publicly verify" his findings under the supervision of an "authoritative third party" in  a month, but no follow-up has been announced yet.

Han and the university could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Posted in: Society, Biology

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