If you’re a fan of the number three, then you’ll especially enjoy this story. As BBC reports, today the British House of Commons today legalized the creation of three-parent children.
Although that may sound weird, it actually makes quite a lot of sense in context. So what exactly is that context? Among the many genetic disorders known to man, there is a group of inherited diseases that are quite devastating to children. At the heart of the problem are defects within the DNA contained by mitochondria.
Wait, mitochondria? I remember that from grade school! It’s the powerhouse of the cell, providing all of the energy the cell needs, right? Absolutely right. But a little known fact about this cellular component is that it actually contains its own DNA sequence, distinct from the DNA in the nucleus. Oddly enough, this DNA is also only inherited from the biological mother. And when that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is damaged, bad things happen. In one case, a mother lost seven children to such disease.
So where does the three-parent solution come into play? Scientists believe the answer is as follows. Take the nucleus out of the mother’s egg and discard the rest of the cell (which would include the damaged mtDNA), implant the nucleus into a healthy donor’s egg (containing normal mtDNA), then fertilize it with the father’s sperm. Alternatively, you could also just insert it into an already fertilized embryo.
Now, this might sound pretty straight-forward and sensible, but there are many ethical considerations to be made. For starters, researchers have yet to prove that this works in non-human primates (i.e. monkeys). We also don’t have any proof that no harm will come of this. And if it did cause harm, it would be life-long. There’s no way to reverse the treatment as the entire body would be populated with copies of the donor’s mtDNA. Nonetheless, Britain’s parliament seems determined to give this treatment option a try.
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