In Brief

Widely Publicized Study on CRISPR Babies' Gene Mutation Now Retracted for Errors

An illustration of gene editing in an embryo.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A widely publicized study suggesting that the first gene-edited babies could have shorter life spans has been retracted due to crucial errors in the analysis.

The study, which was originally published June 3 in the journal Nature Medicine, showed that a genetic mutation that protects against HIV infection was linked with an increased risk of death before age 76, Live Science previously reported. This mutation, known as CCR5-delta 32, is the same genetic tweak that a Chinese scientist attempted to make in twin babies born last year —  in a highly controversial experiment using CRISPR technology.

At the time the study was published, the authors of the Nature Medicine paper said that the work underscored concerns about the use of gene-editing technology in humans.

However, technical errors in the Nature Medicine paper caused the authors to undercount the number of people in their population who had the CCR5-delta 32 mutation, Nature News reported. The error directly affects the main result and thus invalidates the conclusion, according to the retraction note published Oct. 8 in Nature Medicine.

"I feel I have a responsibility to put the record straight for the public," study lead author Rasmus Nielsen, a population geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Nature News.

Still, the retraction of the current paper doesn't mean that edits to the CCR5 gene, like the ones attempted in the CRISPR babies, are harmless.

"It's very reasonable to expect that [CCR5] might have a valuable function that we just don't know how to measure. It seems very unwise to edit it out,"  David Reich, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the original study, told Nature News.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.