We Should Approve 'Three-Parent' Embryos
This article originally appeared on RealClerScience. You can read the original here.
The government of the United Kingdom recently announced its intention to draw up regulations for an innovative and controversial in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique that will help mothers with a particular type of genetic defect bear healthy children. The UK would be wise to approve the procedure as quickly as possible, and both the United States and European Union should follow suit.
The new IVF technique is controversial because it involves the creation of what is colloquially known as a “three-parent embryo” – much to the chagrin of stem cell biologists.
Mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of the cell. Their primary function is to produce energy. Mitochondria also contain a little bit of their own DNA, separate from the chromosomes found in the nucleus, which encode some of the enzymes responsible for creating that energy. Therefore, mutations in mitochondrial DNA can have devastating effects, including neuropathies, metabolic disorders, blindness and even death.
Even though a sperm contains mitochondria, it does not contribute any to the embryo, meaning all the embryo's mitochondria come from the mother’s egg.* Thus, if a woman has a mitochondrial disease, an embryo has essentially a 100% probability of inheriting the disorder. To prevent this, an egg with healthy mitochondria is required. And that’s where the “third parent” comes in.
If a healthy woman donates her egg, scientists can remove its nucleus (which contains most of the cell’s DNA) and replace it with the nucleus extracted from the mother’s egg. The resulting egg contains nuclear DNA from the mother and healthy mitochondria from the donor – i.e., the “third parent.” The new egg can then be fertilized and implanted into the mother.
As might be expected, the technique is controversial, and some of the objections require serious answers.
Critics say that the safety of the procedure is unknown. That is indeed true. Further study and clinical trials should be conducted. However, a mother with a mitochondrial disease who wishes to have her own children may very well choose to accept the risk. Remember, she has nearly a 100% chance of passing on a disease to her child; this technique would greatly reduce that risk.
Other critics worry about the ethics of destroying embryos. However, it should be kept in mind that standard IVF also destroys embryos. Extra embryos are always made, and the “leftover” embryos are often discarded or frozen indefinitely. It is estimated that some 600,000 embryos sit unwanted in freezers in the United States alone.
Finally, some critics worry about genetic engineering and the supposed slippery slope that will lead to creating designer babies. Besides the unconvincing nature of “slippery slope” arguments in general, this criticism is inconsiderate of those people who wish to have their own biological children but are incapable of doing so. For the foreseeable future, genetic engineering will be about curing illnesses, not creating designer babies. We can deal with that issue if and when it arises.
Advances in technology will continue to cause bioethical challenges for decades to come. As intimidating as some of these advances are, we should always keep in mind they are developed with good intentions; that is, helping patients in need.
*Correction (7/29/13 @ 1:54 pm PST): An earlier version of this article stated that sperm contain no mitochondria. This is incorrect. Our apologies.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.
- The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
- It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
- Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.
- Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
- The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
- Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
- Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.