CRISPR gene-edited babies may have shorter lives

Results showed that individuals with non-working CCR5 were 21 percent less likely to live to age 76.


NSFW    BERKELY, CALIFORNIA — A new study shows that alterations on the CCR5 gene could shorten life expectancy and increase vulnerability to certain diseases.

Last year, Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed he had successfully edited the CCR5 gene in the embryos of twin girls using CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

By altering this gene, he expected the twins would be protected from contracting HIV, however, new studies show he might have inadvertently shortened their life expectancy as well.

According to the study published in Nature Medicine, scientists analyzed the DNA of 400,000 volunteers, some of which had mutated CCR5 genes. Results showed that individuals with non-working CCR5 were 21 percent less likely to live to age 76.

Apart from increased mortality rates, results also showed that altering the said gene could also make individuals more susceptible to influenza and the West Nile virus.

The problem with mixing around genes is, you never know what you're going to get. An MIT Technology review states that genes have many functions, so blocking one part of them may bring the intended results, but also unexpected outcomes.

To the dean of Harvard Medical School George Daley, the experiment is an ethical and scientific failure. He told NPR, "Even when we think we know something about a gene, we can always be surprised and even startled, like in this case, to find out that a gene we thought was protective may actually be a problem."

To other experts, this is just part of the scientific process. Speaking to NPR, George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard, said that new technological developments are expected to come with unforeseen consequences, adding, "The first monoclonal antibodies were nearly deadly. The first gene therapies were indeed deadly. All kinds of means of transportation were and still are deadly. It's all about benefits versus risks."
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