Back in 2018, Chinese scientists He Jiankui made the headlines but not necessarily in the best way when he announced that he had edited the embryonic genes of a pair of twin girls using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. His goal, and also the goal of gene editing, was to make it so that these girls would be immune from the HIV virus carried by their father.


It sounds noble, but many had accused He of playing god and now it turns out that his actions might have some serious consequences. According to new research published in the journal Nature Medicine, it has been theorized that as a result of the gene editing which disabled the CCR5 gene, the twin girls, named Lulu and Nana, might have a shortened life expectancy.

The research is based on the work by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley who analyzed the DNA and death records of over 400,000 volunteers in the UK Biobank. Based on their findings, it seems that people born with non-working CCR5 genes passed away 20% faster compared to others. It also made them more susceptible to certain illnesses, such as the West Nile virus or influenza.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Rasmus Nielsen from UC Berkeley said, “In this case, it is probably not a mutation that most people would want to have. You are actually, on average, worse off having it.”

That being said, the exact implications for the twins still remains unclear. While in theory their life expectancies might have been shortened, not everyone who carries the mutations died young and that it’s probably too early to tell what kind of effects it might have on the twins growing up.

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