This is how Britain’s ‘three-parent’ baby technique works

Britain has become the first country to allow three people to parent one child — after a fashion, anyway — but how does the technique work, and why is it so controversial?

Babies that result from the technique — which uses donated DNA from a third party to cut out the risk of certain genetic disorders that the parents might pass on — can only attribute around .1 per cent of their DNA to the third party, so “parent” is a bit of a strong word. The donors provide only their mitochondria. Often called the “power plants” of the cell, the mitochondria converts energy from food into energy that can power a cell. When someone’s mitochondria don’t function properly, it’s bad news indeed.

Mitochondrial diseases can cause a whole host of life-threatening problems, and as many as 4,000 children are born with such conditions in the United States each year.


Method one involves placing the nucleus of an embryo into a donor embryo with healthy mitochondria. ​Photo: Human Fertilization Embryology Authority

The “three-parent” technique, which was developed by British researchers, takes a mitochondria from a healthy female donor and combines it with the DNA of two parents in an in-vitro fertilisation. This can be accomplished at either the egg stage or the embryo stage: In one method, two eggs are fertilised with the father’s sperm — one from the donor, and one from the mother — and the parents’ genetic information is inserted into the donor’s embryo, which has had everything but the mitochondria cleared out.

Last week, 40 experts from 14 different countries signed a letter to The Guardian urging British politicians to support the donation protocol. But the Church of England came out in opposition of the technique. Naysayers cite ethical concerns: Some take a pro-life stance, arguing against the embryo destruction that occurs during the process. Others have expressed concern that this technique opens the door to “designer babies” chosen for desirable physical or mental traits.

“The biggest problem is that this has been described as three-parent IVF. In fact it is 2.001-parent IVF,” Gillian Lockwood, a reproductive ethicist, told the BBC. “Less than a tenth of one per cent of the genome is actually going to be affected. It is not part of what makes us genetically who we are. It doesn’t affect height, eye colour, intelligence, musicality. It simply allows the batteries to work properly.”

3par 2

Method two involves placing the nucleus of an egg into a donor egg with healthy mitochondria. ​Photo: Human Fertilization Embryology Authority

There are already people out three with 2.001 parents. A similar technique was pioneered in the US during the 90s, but was banned after fewer than 100 babies were born.

In fact, having a stranger’s DNA in your body permanently isn’t a novel idea at all.

“Think about bone marrow transplants,” Peter Braude, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Kings College London, told the BBC. “Let’s say unfortunately you have leukaemia and you have to have your bone marrow radiated for the cancer to be killed and then it is replaced by bone marrow from someone else — say me. Effectively from that time onwards, you will have circulating in your body DNA from me. You won’t be related to me, you may be grateful to me, but you will have DNA from a third person circulating in your body.”

Source : The Washington Post
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