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IVF Treatment Combines Genes From Three People

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mitochondriaThere’s been a lot of news lately about American freedom and the sanctity of “unconventional” relationships. Now, an equally unconventional medical technique, one that may some ruffle feathers, has entered the spotlight—the use of genetic material from three people in in-vitro fertilization.

Two heads are better than one, so why not three?

Mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell,” producing intercellular energy from sugar and other molecules. They also contain the enzymes needed for cellular respiration. In other words, they’re pretty important. Someone with unhealthy mitochondria is in for a bumpy ride, such as motor control problems, muscle issues, gastrointestinal distress, heart and liver disease, seizures…the list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

So it makes sense, that, given the choice, mothers wouldn’t want to pass any genetic disorders caused by flaws in their mitochondria on to their children—something that currently impacts 1 in 7,000 babies born. And now, a process to prevent this mitochondrial transfer, (also known as mitochrondrial replacement) may be approved in Britain as early as next year.

Mitochrondrial transfer via in-vitro fertilization involves genetic material from two women and one man. The technique involves creating one embryo from the mother’s egg and father’s sperm, and a second from the father’s sperm and the egg of a healthy female donor. The nuclei of both are then removed, and the nucleus from the parent’s embryo is inserted into the de-nucleated egg of the donor’s embryo and implanted in the womb of the mother. This process will prevent the inheritance of any mitochrondrial-based genetic disorders to the baby.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned this technique about a decade ago due to two major objections. First, it’s unclear what new problems might be created through the procedure and then passed on to the baby. And second, thorny ethical issues come into play whenever destroying an embryo is involved. Some critics also think the babies may experience identity issues down the line, and that we could be embarking on a slippery slope of genetic engineering.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s public consultation found that the technique has widespread approval. Britain’s chief medical officer recommended that the government start drafting regulations for the use of the technique, publish them this fall, and open the floor to political debate and votes.

While they’re at it, I think scientists should figure out a way to boost babies’ midichlorian counts. That would pretty much solve all the problems, wouldn’t it?

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