A "Drift Towards GM Babies" — Can "Frankenbabies" Be Far Behind?

Researchers in Britain are reporting that they have created embryos that contain genes from three different people. Basically, they have fertilized one woman's eggs in a petri dish, then removed the nucleus from the fertilized egg and placed it inside another woman's enucleated egg. The second woman's genetic contribution is the genes contained in mitochondria, the energy producing cellular organelles. So the embryos have genes from two women and one man. The idea is that the technique will enable parents to have healthy children by avoiding the 50 or diseases known to be caused by defective mitochondria.

As the BBC reports, the British research team

...have effectively given the embryos a mitochondria transplant.

They experimented on 10 severely abnormal embryos left over from traditional fertility treatment.

Within hours of their creation, the nucleus, containing DNA from the mother and father, was removed from the embryo, and implanted into a donor egg whose DNA had been largely removed.

The only genetic information remaining from the donor egg was the tiny bit that controls production of mitochondria - around 16,000 of the 3billion component parts that make up the human genome.

The embryos then began to develop normally, but were destroyed within six days.

Back in 2001, an American reseach team did something similar when it injected cellular fluids containing mitochondria from one woman's eggs into the fertilized eggs of another woman. At a conference in Britain, the lead researcher, Jacques Cohen, told me that 20 babies were born using this technique--19 of whom are healthy and one of whom has an autism disorder. The FDA ordered the fertility to clinic to stop using the procedure. Later fertility clinics in China began offering the treatment.

Naturally, the BBC reports that opponents are worrying about a "drift towards GM babies." Can denunciations of "Frankenbabies" be far behind?

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  • ||

    Al Franken is breeding?

  • Taktix®||

    So, they are able to isolate metachlorians?

    I wantz sum...

  • ||

    Frankenbabies

    "Aw, who has the cutest little neckbolts? You do... yes, you!"

  • Taktix®||

    Frankenbabies

    I read this as Frankenberries and now regret skipping breakfast...

  • ||

    I wanted to have a Frankenbaby. Instead, my daughter will have to go through life with all the same physical problems that I have, the poor thing.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Taktix,

    It is the most important meal of the day.

  • robc||

  • ||

    GM can't even build cars right. Now babies? Did Romney have something to do with this?

  • robc||

    ">

  • robc||

    Okay, my last attempt really screwed things up. Sorry about that sixstring. Attempt #2:

    Beggars in Spain

    I never read the novel. I enjoyed the original novella.

    Basic plot: Kids genetically engineered to not need sleep. They turn out to be brighter and healthier. Troubles ensue.

  • ||

    I don't see what all the "GM babies" fuss is about. Isn't having children with your chosen spouse a kind of genetic engineering?

  • ||

    One step closer to the day when I grow a basketball team of atomic supermen...

  • Jennifer||

    These folks who oppose genetic manipulation to eradicate genetic problems -- do they also oppose things like insulin for diabetics or dopamine inhibitors for schizophrenics? The latter two are just as unnatural as the former. What about giving C-sections to women who would otherwise die in childbirth?

  • ||

    I just hope we can avoid the Eugenics Wars.


    /Khaaaaaaan!

  • ||

    robc,
    de nada. My son is a fan of the James Patterson books in which the government has genetically engineered some children and given them avian DNA, enabling them to fly. Their enemies are the Erasers, which have lupine influenced DNA. And troubles ensue.

  • ||

    Al Franken is breeding?

    That is one instance where I would support government intervention.

  • ||

    Khaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!!!!!!

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    The embryos then began to develop normally, but were destroyed within six days.

    Test Tube Abortion?

  • ||

    Even if we are by-passing natural selection in a specific case, we are not going to change anything as a species. If 100 of these kids are born and live (whereas they would have been born/miscarried with a serious genetic problem), they will be dwarfed by the 2 billion people born through regular sexual reproduction.

    Of course, the mitochondrial DNA inserted into the process was derived by sexual reproduction and natural selection.

    With salmon, which have millions of eggs and short lifespans, I can see more of an argument. I can see even more of an argument with grains where you can supplant the genetics of a field in one season. But we will never grow enough kids in test tubes to even register a blip in our reproduction.

  • tarran||

    These folks who oppose genetic manipulation to eradicate genetic problems -- do they also oppose things like insulin for diabetics or dopamine inhibitors for schizophrenics? The latter two are just as unnatural as the former. What about giving C-sections to women who would otherwise die in childbirth?



    Some do Jennifer, some do.

    When anesthesia was first being developed, a bunch of clergymen demanded that it be outlawed: one of the original uses being mooted about was to knock out women who were going through childbirth to spare them pain. The argument raised by the clergymen was that God had condemned women to suffer in childbirth for Eve's transgression, and that this anesthesia therefore went against God's will.

    While their arguments resonated, they were not as successful in getting it outlawed as they were later when birth control methods began to be popularized.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    .....when I grow a basketball team of atomic supermen...

    The one thing we should have learned from the Superheroes is that, generally, there will be other atomic supermen who play basketball.

    Eventually (like 20 years ago) they will have raised the height of the basket to 12-14 feet.

  • ||

    Pretty much every medical procedure has been opposed on Luddite grounds.

  • gaijin||

    I read this as Frankenberries and now regret skipping breakfast...

    Where do frankenberries grow? Or crunchberries for that matter?

  • Neu Mejican||

    On Frankentrees and Crunch trees...native to Transylvania, I believe.

  • ||

    Warty,

    "He's really showing us what a man with a cannon in his chest can do!"

  • Jennifer||

    When anesthesia was first being developed, a bunch of clergymen demanded that it be outlawed: one of the original uses being mooted about was to knock out women who were going through childbirth to spare them pain. The argument raised by the clergymen was that God had condemned women to suffer in childbirth for Eve's transgression, and that this anesthesia therefore went against God's will.

    I know; the English clergymen finally shut the fuck up about it when Queen Victoria used anesthetic during childbirth, because ordering the Queen to suffer agony takes far more balls than ordering the proles to suffer agony, and the clergy thankfully lacked sufficient ballage to do it. I'm just wondering if modern anti-medical people complain about other unnatural aspects of modern medicine.

  • Episiarch||

    One step closer to the day when I grow a basketball team of atomic supermen...

    There's nothing at stake, and no threat...beyond the shame of defeat.

  • Episiarch||

    Ahh, you blow, SugarFree...see what happens when I have real work to do?

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,

    I feel that you have been sadly underinformed about the Cereal Berry Blight that has wiped out most of Eastern Europe's processed sugarcrop trees.

    Most Cereal Berries are know grown on hydroponic barges anchored in the Straits of Hormuz.

  • ||

    Are Frankenbabies made like Frankenstuffs? Stuffed with chili??

  • ||

    Ahh, you blow, SugarFree

    Especially when mine was so much funnier.

  • Kolohe||

    Patrick-
    But there could be a long tail phenomenon. One of the theories of evolution hypothesizes that all changes in population starts as a small sunset of that population, until is propagates and takes over that same population, right?

  • Jennifer||

    But there could be a long tail phenomenon. One of the theories of evolution hypothesizes that all changes in population starts as a small sunset of that population, until is propagates and takes over that same population, right?

    Yes, but that assumes a change which gives you an advantage over the rest of the population. These changes merely save people from having substandard health compared to everybody else.

  • ||

    Well, Jennifer, there are lots of different people who are opposed to some or all procedures that involve genetic manipulation. Different people have different levels of sophistication and different moral assumptions.

    You are unlikely to find an accurate summation of their points of view by asking on the comment thread of a libertarian web site.

  • Episiarch||

    Especially when mine was so much funnier.

    You win this round, Nutrasweet.

  • ||

    But we will never grow enough kids in test tubes to even register a blip in our reproduction.

    What happens when a gengineered baby can be produced by a visit to the family physician?

    The chairman of IBM once stated that five computers would suffice for the worlds needs. The laser was described as an invention in search of a purpose. I'll bet you own at least one of each.

    If the past is any indication, predicting the future is a good way to end up with egg on your face.

  • Jennifer||

    What happens when a gengineered baby can be produced by a visit to the family physician?

    I'd love to see a time when that can happen, at least where eradicating genetic abnormalities are concerned. I'll admit to having concerns about parents who will one day try to use genetic manipulation either to have defective children (like the deaf parents who deliberately try to have deaf children), or parents who will want to give their kids traits that are not human at all: "Oooh, wouldn't it be cool to have a kid with a prehensile tail?"

    But we're still a long way from that, I think.

  • ||

    I think it will become first a "why not do it" and then a "why in the world aren't you doing it." Think about how paranoid most people are during pregnancy at this point, juggling fish oil vs. mercury levels and the moral horror expressed at someone having even a sip of wine.

    If there is a safe, proven way to remove most of the genetic risk of reproduction, social convention will demand it of expectant mothers soon enough. And those that have a moral or luddittal objection will become more and more marginalized in the debate as "uncaring parents willing to risk the health of their children for outmoded beliefs." Basically like a Christian Science parent that prays over a child rather than giving her antibiotics.

    (Not to pick on Christin Scientists.)

  • Taktix®||

    What happens when a gengineered baby can be produced by a visit to the family physician?

    Maybe, but the old-fashioned way is so much more fun!

  • The Toy Dolls||

    Things were looking gloomy and Glenda she was sad,
    Kevin had been out with Carol Sands,
    But Glenda she though surely,
    It can't be that bad, if I had a baby,

    Glenda went round to the doctors the next day,
    You can't have a baby, that's what he said,
    Glenda did not give up she's got this book to read,
    Of how to have a test tube baby....

    Victory, if Glenda, she, had a baby, ooee!
    Victory, if Glenda, she, had a baby, ooee!

  • Jennifer||

    If there is a safe, proven way to remove most of the genetic risk of reproduction, social convention will demand it of expectant mothers soon enough. And those that have a moral or luddittal objection will become more and more marginalized in the debate as "uncaring parents willing to risk the health of their children for outmoded beliefs."


    That IS a tough call. If you're pregnant with a child whom you know will (for example) have Down's syndrome, but there's a quick, easy and guaranteed way to remove the extra chromosome and have a normal healthy baby, IS it moral to refuse the genetic manipulation and doom your child to a lifetime of mental retardation?

  • ||

    Two points:

    1. This procedure does not genetically modify babies, it modifies zygotes. So, these will all be test-tube babies. I have no problem with that, I am just pointing it out to refute (slightly) the title of this thread. As far as I can tell, this procedure will have no benefit for existing children with mitochondrial problems.
    2. This procedure will not eliminate most genetic problems, just the ones that are caused by mitochondrial genetic diseases. It still strikes me as a good thing to do, but just clarifying.

  • ||

    So will GM individuals be allowed to travel into the EU?

  • ||

    "...IS it moral to refuse the genetic manipulation and doom your child to a lifetime of mental retardation?"

    Just my opinion, but I think the answer is yes, it is moral. I can see no moral support for refusing such treatment for your zygote/embryo/child.

  • ||

    Duh, sorry I mean to say it is NOT moral to doom your child to preventable agonies.

  • ||

    "So will GM individuals be allowed to travel into the EU?"

    Yes, as long as they are not eaten.

  • Jennifer||

    Duh, sorry I mean to say it is NOT moral to doom your child to preventable agonies.

    I agree. But then that puts us on the same slippery slope as those people we see now who want to make it illegal for pregnant women to smoke, drink, eat insufficient vegetables or do anything else that might have even the slightest impact on the health of the fetus.

  • ||

    True. I guess the qualitative difference is that you KNOW an embryo has the genetic defect that cause Downs, but smoking simply increases risks. I do see your point though. There are NEVER easy answers, it seems.

  • Taktix®||

    IT WAS ONLY A COUPLE OF FLIPPER-BABIES!

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    GM can't even build cars right. Now babies?

    On the other hand, selected new model GM babies will be equipped with OnStar!

  • ||

    Down Syndrome children don't generally experience "a life of agonies." It's not "burst into flame disease."

    What about height? Bad hips?

  • ||

    Hello, Onstar? My baby just burst into flame...

    Recall? What recall?

  • ed||

    parents who will one day try to use genetic manipulation either to have defective children (like the deaf parents who deliberately try to have deaf children), or parents who will want to give their kids traits that are not human at all

    From Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs" (1869)

    "In China, since time immemorial, they have achieved refinement in a special art and industry: the molding of a living man. One takes a child two or three years old, one puts him into a porcelain vase, more or less grotesque in shape, without cover or bottom, so that the head and feet protrude. In the daytime, one keeps this vase standing upright; at night, one lays it down, so that the child can sleep. Thus the child expands without growing, slowly filling the contours of the vase with his compressed flesh and twisted bones. This bottled development continues for several years. At a certain point, it becomes irreparable. When one judges that this has occurred and that the monster is made, one breaks the vase, the child comes out, and one has a man in the shape of a pot."

  • ||

    joe, Down's syndrome children experience a host of physical problems in addition to mental retardation. In addition, you can't ignore the tremendous difficulties experienced by the parents of a Down's child.

    By the way, I have been away for a while. Are there now two "joes" on H&R? Which "joe" are you?

  • some sense||

    If we have atomic basketball players, some of them could run for public office like Bill Bradley. Then they could become so atomically boring that an entire city could be wiped out from just litening to one of their specches.

    We must end genetic manipulation to avoid such a horror.......

  • Taktix®||

    Can we genetically engineer future politicians to either:

    A: Stop lying
    B: Despise power,or
    C: Self-destruct at age 18

    Otherwise, we are wasting our time...

  • Zeb||

    Well, there is a difference between genetic treatments and insulin, c-section and most other medical things. THe genetic treatments will be passed on to all of one's descendants (or a female line in this case, but still likely passed on). Not to say that that necessarily makes it bad, but there is a difference.
    I am not totally opposed to this sort of thing, but I think that there is a legitimate discussion to be had. I am tempted to think of genetics like markets: best left alone to sort itself out and not centrally planned by some big shots who think they can fix everything.

  • gaijin||

    Anyone see the movie GATTACA? Life imitates art eventually.

  • ||

    Speaking of religious beliefs vis-a-vis medicine, supposedly at least some clergy (of both Christianity and Islam) back way back when were against any sort of medicine at all during plague years because "it is the Will of God if they are to die."

    No wonder I'm anti-religious.

  • ||

    Religious leaders want to punish women for being inherently sinful? This is news to me.

  • ||

    Just wait until babies come with Windows® 2025 pre-installed. When they become cranky or freeze and turn blue in the face, you just press their foreheads to reboot them.

  • Jennifer||

    Down Syndrome children don't generally experience "a life of agonies." It's not "burst into flame disease."

    Who here said Down's children suffer "a life of agonies?" Perhaps you accidentally posted on the wrong thread.

  • ||

    Down Syndrome children don't generally experience "a life of agonies."

    I've only known one. Happiest little rugrat imaginable. A joy to be around. Just an anesdote, I know.

  • ||

    "Oooh, wouldn't it be cool to have a kid with a prehensile tail?"
    Forget the kids, I want a prehensile tail!! O, and I'd like my "fun" appendage to be humongous. And I'd like to be soooo good looking. And maybe be a hot chick for a day or two... and fly. OK, thats enough.

  • ||

    "Oooh, wouldn't it be cool to have a kid with a prehensile tail?"
    Forget the kids, I want a prehensile tail!! O, and I'd like my "fun" appendage to be humongous. And I'd like to be soooo good looking. And maybe be a hot chick for a day or two... and fly. OK, thats enough.


    Daniel, you sound like a perfect candidate for a Second Life account :)

  • ||

    wayne,

    I am the joe who doesn't capitalize his name.

    There are widely disparate outcomes for children born with Down's Syndrome. "A life of agony," as a summation of what should be expected for someone born with that genetic mutation, is seriously misleading.

    In addition, you can't ignore the tremendous difficulties experienced by the parents of a Down's child. No, you can't. You certainly can't ignore it when people talk about "saving them from a life of agony."

  • ||

    A little defensive, Jennifer?

    Since you asked, the phrase "a life of agonies" was written by wayne, in response to your question about Down's Syndrome.

    Problem?

  • Jennifer||

    A little defensive, Jennifer?

    Joe, you're obviously trying to start a pissing match with me, but you have picked the wrong time. Try again tonight, around 6 p.m. EST, when there's a good chance I'll be in a snippy mood after expected worse-than-usual traffic for my commute home. I'm also likely to be annoyed this Friday afternoon around three, as I'm to spend the early afternoon poring through some cataclysmically boring documents.

    Tomorrow evening may or may not be good, depending on what the man of the house makes for dinner. Saturday will be a total bust for you, but since I'm not likely to be online it won't matter.

    Yesterday would've been perfect. Man, was I ever in a bad mood.

  • ||

    Actually, I was responding to wayne.

    I'd be perfectly happy not dealing with you at all.

    "Obviously trying to start a pissing match with me...?" Defensive and narcissistic.

  • Pissing Match||

    Why does joe want children to be born with Down's Syndrome? Is is because they will overwhelmingly vote Democratic?

  • Jennifer||

    Mondays from nine a.m. to around one in the afternoon are the best time of all, because that's when I'm stressing to meet deadline. After 1 p.m. on Mondays are a waste of time, however, because then I'm basking in the knowldge that the deadline has been met. Aaaah.

    Alternate Tuesdays are also good, because I never like having to sit around the office waiting to attend town-council meetings. Ooooh, I just hate every other Tuesday.

  • ||

    No no, I don't "see" Down Syndrome.

    I'm "genetic-blind."

    I make a great big show of it, as a matter of fact. That's how you can tell I'm a better person than you are.

  • Ventifact||

    But there could be a long tail phenomenon. One of the theories of evolution hypothesizes that all changes in population starts as a small sunset of that population, until is propagates and takes over that same population, right?




    Umm, except these "new" mitochondria are only new to the recipient family. They are already living inside other people's cells. I.e. they are already present in the population. Nobody's inventing new biological or genetic material.

  • robc||

    GM is just evolution in action. The "good" mitochrondria have found a way to keep the "bad" mitochrondria from procreating.

    For some reason the Niven and Barnes? story The Locusts comes to mind.

  • robc||

    Remove the ? from my previous post. It was Steve Barnes. The Locusts was a Hugo Best Novelette nominee in 1980.

  • Taktix®||

    Alternate Tuesdays are also good, because I never like having to sit around the office waiting to attend town-council meetings. Ooooh, I just hate every other Tuesday.

    Ahh, I remember the days of town (or in my case, borough) council meetings. During one budget session, uhh... 2005 I think, they were debating some stupid point about a loan, and ended up passing a resolution to add $100,000 worth of interest to the budget with no benefit whatsoever. Yes, the accidentally took out a needless loan.

    During the debate, one resident yelled out, "you guys need an abacus to figure this out?" The head councilwoman, completely seriously, said, "anything can help, there's an electrical outlet right here."

    I, of course, was not allowed to print this thanks to my jerk-off editor, but twas quite funny...

  • Jennifer||

    I, of course, was not allowed to print this thanks to my jerk-off editor, but twas quite funny...

    At least I'm allowed (nay, encouraged) to print stuff like that nowadays. But at my last job, my editor was even worse than yours: I once did a story about a Vietnam vet reminiscing about his experiences. Although I clearly mentioned the words "Vietnam" and "Vietnam War" in the first paragraph, every single time I quoted the guy saying " 'Nam" the anal-retentive twit would add [Viet] in brackets before that. You know, just in case any of our readers got confused and thought they were reading a story about a 1971 veteran of the war between America and Surinam.

  • ||

    But there could be a long tail phenomenon. One of the theories of evolution hypothesizes that all changes in population starts as a small sunset of that population, until is propagates and takes over that same population, right?

    I'm not up on the latest evolutionary theory, but I thought the idea of single point mutations was not very popular. I believe population genetic drift from isolation is more in vogue.

    But, what if some really great benefit came of this and that female spread this mitochondria to all humans in 2000 years, it is obviously better. I have less of a problem screwing with our own species' genetics than the genetics of other species.

    If people are really bothered, you could just outlaw female offspring from such test tubes. Males cannot pass on mitochondria. ;-)

  • Ghanam||

    The only reason I don't like GM babies is because they make me vastly inferior. But by the time the first super babies are old enough to compete for my job, we will probably have genetic engineering techniques for people who have already been born, or maybe super AI that would make even super babies obsolete.

  • ||

    I had a younger sister born with Down's. She lived to be two years old. She was born with a hole in her heart, which is a common defect amongst Down's kids. Because of the hole in her heart, she had pneumonia multiple times during her short two years and eventually died of pnuemonia.

    Down's is no picnic, and despite the seeming "happiness" of Down's kids it would be no loss to the world if that genetic defect were eliminated.

  • ||

    No no, I don't "see" Down Syndrome.

    I'm "genetic-blind."

    I make a great big show of it, as a matter of fact. That's how you can tell I'm a better person than you are.


    Too bad you are such a racist. :-).

  • ||

    "What about height? Bad hips?"

    short, fat urban planners just inflict a life of agonies on others, so maybe a little genetic engineering wouldn't hurt there too :-).

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