Studies show gene editing can heighten the risk of early death
Concerns regarding gene editing and the long term effects of it are generating debates on the ethics and dangers of this fledgling science.
Remember the recent gene editing done by a Chinese scientist Jiankui He? He came under fire for experimenting with the gene mutation of two twin babies. His aim? To stave off HIV infection in the babies. Now, new research on gene editing has been highlighting the dangers of editing genes.
A brief introduction to gene editing: It is a process in which the DNA sequence of a human being is permanently altered. DNA carries hereditary information and they combine to form genes.
According to new analysis done by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, gene editing increases the chance of mortality by 21 percent in later life. The researcher came to the conclusion by scanning more than 400,000 genomes and associated health records contained in a British database, UK Biobank.
The scan results are surprising, as they suggest that people with mutated copies of genes have higher rates of death as compared to those with one or no copies. Particularly, when they are between the age of 41 and 78. Studies conducted earlier found that the death rate increases by fourfold after influenza infection.
“Beyond the many ethical issues involved with the CRISPR babies, the fact is that, right now, with current knowledge, it is still very dangerous to try to introduce mutations without knowing the full effect of what those mutations do,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.
Another researcher involved in the project says that “Because one gene could affect multiple traits, and because, depending on the environment, the effects of a mutation could be quite different, I think there can be many uncertainties and unknown effects in any germline editing,” said postdoctoral fellow Xinzhu “April” Wei.
The number of people with two mutations in the database was limited. The reason behind that is higher mortality rates, as compared to the general population. The researchers also found fewer people with two mutations enrolled in the database; the reason being, they had died at an earlier age than general population.