The first-ever gene-edited babies might have less chance of contracting HIV, but, in turn, could have a higher risk of dealing with other issues.
Scientists around the world are working tirelessly to try and find cures for some of the world's most terrible diseases. While the battle against things like diabetes and cancer rages on, some illnesses have been dealt a blow or even wiped out entirely thanks to advances in science and medicine. But what about if we could edit a person's genes in order to lessen their chance of falling ill before they're even born?
A scientist in China did exactly that in 2018. Jiankui He edited the genes of two babies long before they were born, back when they were merely fertilized eggs, reports National Geographic. By November 2018, those fertilized eggs had become two baby girls, Nana and Lulu. He edited their genes in order to lessen their chances of contracting HIV.
As you might imagine, He's work has been showered with controversy ever since. For starters, HIV is a disease that has become much more manageable in recent years. Many believe that there was really no need to edit the baby's genes in the way that he did. Researchers have now found another reason why He's gene editing was a bad thing and published their findings in Nature Medicine.
After analyzing data from a genetic database in the UK, researchers discovered a link between the trait He gave the genetically edited babies and their chance of dying before the age of 76. Apparently, that chance increases by a staggering 21%. So Nana and Lulu might have less chance of contracting HIV, but editing their genes in the way He has done might well have reduced their life expectancy.
The researchers who provided the information as to why He's work could be even more detrimental to the babies than first thought pointed out that their own work has issues. For starters, they were working with genetic information from Europeans rather than East Asians. However, He's work has been compared to fixing a computer. Editing the girls' genes so early on is the equivalent of altering a computer's entire operating system when a better solution would be to change or replace the one piece of software causing the issue.