Baby's DNA: One from column A, one from column B, one from column C

The U.K. looks set to allow a third person's DNA into an embryo, a world first. Great news for preventing mitochondrial disease, or slippery slope to designer babies?

Renewable energy. A new IVF technique allows a third person to provide mitochondria, such as the two above, to an embryo that would otherwise develop into a person with a debilitating lack of energy.

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The U.K. looks set to allow a third person's DNA into an embryo in order to prevent debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial disease.

It would be the first time that any country has permitted genetic material from a third "parent," the BBC reported.

Opponents say the procedure would set humans on the slippery slope to making designer babies and altering genetics.

But supporters laud the idea for its potential to eliminate defects in mitochondria, which are the parts of cells known as "power stations" because they provide energy. Diseased mitochondria leaves people weak and can cause blindness, heart failure and death. Mitochondrial disease affects one in every 6,500 babies according to the BBC.

The government has backed two in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques that would leave an embryo mostly with the DNA of the egg and sperm parents, but that would replace the mitochondria (always passed along by the mother) with healthy mitochondria from a third person. For details on how this would work, go to the BBC link above and click on its two excellent diagrams. One of the techniques comes from Newcastle University.

"Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them," said England's chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies. "It's only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."

Davies said there were "clearly some sensitive issues here" but said she was "personally very comfortable" with altering mitochondria.

Critics pointed out that parents could adopt or use egg donors.

"These techniques are unnecessary and unsafe and were in fact rejected by the majority of consultation responses," said Dr. David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert.

The government is drafting regulations that could permit doctors to offer the procedure within two years.

Photo: Louise Howard via Wikimedia

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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