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Three Parents Contribute DNA to Embryo

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 10:53 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Medical Devices, Wrongful Death

Embryos that have three parents are on the horizon. Critics say this could lead to designer babies.


British scientists say they have done exactly that—create a human embryo using the DNA from one man and two women? 

Why? This is being called a breakthrough with hopes it could one day lead to effective treatments for hereditary diseases such as epilepsy, diabetes, heart failure, muscular, mental and developmental disorders.

The test tube embryos have been created and researchers from Newcastle University in northern England presented their research at a medical conference over the weekend.

The fault in genetics lies with tiny mitochondria found inside cells that provide energy. Some mitochondria have a faulty genetic code and do not completely burn food and oxygen. That can lead to the buildup of poisons responsible for more than 40 different diseases.

The theory is if an embryo can have an effective mitochondria transplant, these diseases can be avoided.  Using in vitro fertilization, the egg’s nucleus is removed and is placed into a donor egg whose DNA has been removed.  The fetus then inherits genes from both parents but healthy mitochondrial DNA from the third party.

But this sort of technology smacks a little too close to playing God for some and other critics say the real goal will be the creation of designer babies.  

The Center for Genetics and Society discusses some of the implications of being able to customize DNA from creating a sub-class of workers to being able to recreate through cloning a dead child or a child with exceptional talents or physical characteristics. These biotechnology ethical issues are upon us now.

"We are not trying to alter genes, we're just trying to swap a small proportion of the bad ones for some good ones," said Patrick Chinnery, a professor of neurogenetics at Newcastle University involved in the research.

And he says it would be incorrect to say that the embryo has three parents.  “Most of the genes that make you who you are are inside the nucleus," Chinnery said. "We're not going anywhere near that."

So far it has been successfully tried on 10 embryos that were created but destroyed after six days.  Japanese researchers have tried the technique and healthy mice were born as a result.  

It is hoped that further experiments to determine the safety to humans might offer hope to parents undergoing in-vitro fertilization in a few years. #



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