The genetic mutation that a Chinese researcher claimed he used on a human embryo to create HIV-resistant twins may be linked to a shorter lifespan, according to new research.
The findings from scientists at University of California Berkeley, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, will likely intensify criticism that the researcher carried out an experiment on humans long before the science was ready.
In November, scientist He Jiankui said he had edited the CCR5 gene of the unborn twins to create a mutation that also can occur naturally. The naturally formed mutations protect against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But a new analysis of more than 400,000 genomes and health records in the U.K. Biobank found that people with copies of a similar mutation from both parents had a significantly higher death rate between ages 41 and 78 than those with one or no copies. The mutation, the Berkeley researchers found, is associated with a 21% increase in mortality later in life.
“An important thing to consider is the fact that a mutation doesn’t just have one effect,’’ said Rasmus Nielsen, a UC Berkeley biologist and author of the paper. “So even though a mutation might fix one problem, it might create other problems.’’
He’s work has also been criticized for using the gene-editing technology known as Crispr before its effects are well understood. It has drawn condemnation from the international scientific community and the Chinese government. In the U.S. and Europe, genetic editing of human embryos is mostly prohibited.
“I can’t imagine a scenario right now where Crispr editing in embryos is the best option for anything,” Nielsen said.