Critics wonder if this could pave the way for "designer babies" in the future.
Approval has been given by the UK’s fertility regulator to create a baby using the DNA of three people. According to reports, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announced its “historic” decision in December last year, after explaining that it would begin to accept applications from various fertility clinics that are wanting to become licensed to perform the technical procedure. Now commonly known as the “3-parent baby technique”, the procedure is designed to prevent a small number of children from inheriting diseases from their mothers that could be potentially fatal. The new DNA techniques are primarily intended to fix problems that are linked to mitochondria, which are the structures outside of a cell’s nucleus that produce energy. Any mitochondrial problems could cause diseases such as muscular dystrophy, major organ failure, and severe muscle weakness.
NPR previously explained, “Unlike the DNA that most people are familiar with — the 23 pairs of human chromosomes that program most of our body processes and traits — mitochondrial DNA consists of just 37 genes inside mitochondria, which are structures inside cells that provide their energy. Mitochondrial disorders range from mild to severe. In many cases, there is no treatment, and the affected child dies early in life after suffering progressive, debilitating symptoms.” The HFEA’s chair, Sally Chesire, described the decision as a “life-changing” moment for families who might reap the benefits of the technology. In a statement, Chesire said, “Parents at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease may soon have the chance of a healthy, genetically related child.”
In order to prevent children from inheriting any mitochondrial defects from their mothers, the procedure will involve scientists removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother, before inserting it into a donor egg, from which the donor DNA has been removed. This process can occur before or after fertilization. The resulting embryo will then contain DNA from its parents, but the mitochondrial DNA will be from a donor. The DNA from the donor amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo’s genes. Fertility clinics that have been approved to administer this method will perform them on a case-by-case basis. Whilst three-parent babies already exist, this is a completely new method to create those babies.
Reports also state that currently, no one quite knows what happens when changes are passed down to human DNA from generation to generation, as nobody has ever done this before. This is a topic that critics continue to bring up, as considering the distress that GMO seeds have caused, some people fear that there are issues with scientists who don’t have concerns about genetically engineering human embryos. Together with this, thoughts go to wondering if this method could be adapted in the future to create unethical “designer babies”, whereby people are bred to be superior in attributes such as looks, intellect, and artistic ability, to name a few. David King, the director of the Human Genetics Alert group said, “This decision opens the door to the world of (genetically modified) designer babies. Allowing mitochondrial replacement means that there is no logical basis for resisting GM babies.”
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