Scientists are developing a new IVF technique that could lead to babies being born with genetic material from three parents, but your polyamorous family unit shouldn't break out the party hats and streamers just yet. British Parliament is still considering whether or not to allow the procedure, and it doesn't actually exist yet.
The goal of "three-parent IVF" is to prevent genetic diseases of the heart, liver, and brain, from being passed between mothers and babies through faulty mitochondrial DNA. According to The Daily Mail the new procedure involves fertilizing an egg in a laboratory, then transplanting it into a donor's egg. The donor's healthy mitochondrial DNA will replace the mother's damaged DNA, then the "reconstructed" embryo will be implanted into the mother. While the child would contain genetic material from three people, 98% of its DNA would come from the parents, not the donor.
A panel from Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has been asked to review the process and report back to Parliament. The approval process is expected to take about a year, so even though doctors aren't ready to do three-parent IVF now, they've asked Parliament to review the country's laws on genetic engineering.
Professor Alison Murdoch, head of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University, says the science is progressing "very rapidly," and adds,
As doctors we have a duty to treat disease and where possible to prevent disease. With diseases for which there are no treatments the imperative to develop new treatments is even greater.
For analysis of why allowing the procedure may be a bad idea, you can refer to just about every sci-fi movie ever created. In fiction, geneticists are usually motivated by a nefarious plot to build an army of sexy super soldiers (or make an awesome dinosaur theme park). With three parent IVF, doctors are simply trying to rid the world of devastating diseases. In reality, the ethics of genetic modification aren't as black and white, and they'd make for a pretty boring summer blockbuster.
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