Science Fiction or Medical Breakthrough: Children with Three Genetic Parents

Recently, this headline grabbed my attention– a child with three genetic parents. My first novel, Proof, dealt with a DNA genetic twist that made it difficult for law enforcement to put away the villain. So, as both a medical nerd and a suspense author, this concept intrigued me and set off several plot ideas in my mind.

What exactly are three-parent-babies?

A little science lesson first. Mitochondria are present in each of your cells. They are typically referred to as the “engine” or “powerhouse” of the cell. They provide the energy to run the cell kind of like a battery.

There are a group of diseases that affect the mitochondria and therefore can be passed to you genetically by your mother.

Science is using “three-parent” DNA in IVF to prevent these mitochondrial diseases, which can be very devastating, from being passed down from mother to child by replacing the mother’s mitochondrial DNA with a donor woman’s mitochondrial DNA. The first article I linked to above provides the best diagram I could find as to how they accomplish the genetic transfer.

How much DNA is provided by the donor? Approximately 0.1%.

This procedure is outlawed world wide and just recently gained approval in the UK. It has been performed in the US but was outlawed when one woman miscarried and three other children were born with disorders. It’s not clear if the procedure is to account for these. Other healthy children have been born using this technology who are now in their teens.

Is this a good idea?

I think it remains to be seen. The articles I’ve read liken this to a bone marrow transplant. You’re simply replacing broken batteries with new ones. Naysayers of course worry about manipulating someone’s genetic code and the slippery slope to designer babies.

To me, I’m open to the technology but would be interested in seeing how many eggs are destroyed because the technology failed. I view life as beginning at conception so this worries me on that level.

Supporters say replacing dysfunctional mitochondria doesn’t affect the child’s overall genetics from their parents. It doesn’t influence eye color, height, or intelligence. I’ve seen children suffer with mitochondrial diseases and to offer parents a “cure” is something I could support.

What about you? Does this kind of technology concern you? If so, why?


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