Hooray for Frankenbabies — Sliding Gently Down the Slope Toward Safe Genetic Enhancement

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University report that they have created baby monkeys with genetic material from two mothers. Basically, they took the nucleus from one female monkey's egg and installed into the egg of another monkey whose nucleus had been removed. The engineered egg was then fertilized with sperm. The goal of the experiment is to repair genetic defects found in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses that are passed down to progeny only through females. Defects in mitochondrial DNA contribute to a variety of diseases including stunted growth, blindness, mental retardation, and others. As the Washington Post, explains the researchers...

...extracted DNA from the nucleus of monkey eggs; the nucleus contains the genes for most of a creature's traits. The researchers then transplanted that DNA into eggs from other females that had healthy mitochondrial DNA but from which the nuclear DNA had been removed.

They then fertilized the eggs in the laboratory and transferred 15 of the resulting embryos into the wombs of nine females. Two twins were born -- named Mito and Tracker -- along with two other offspring, Spindler and Spindy. So far, all the offspring appear to be healthy.

The really good news is that this treatment, when applied to people, would alter the children's genes so that they would not pass along the genetic defects to their own children.

"We realize this is not just a simple form of gene therapy. This type of gene therapy involves replacing genes in the germline which of course will be transmitted to next generations, which is a concern," [lead researcher Shoukhrat] Mitalipov said. "However, we're talking about patients and birth defects that cause terrible diseases due to these gene mutations. So the only way to prevent these birth defects is to replace these genes." 

This is just another step down a road that other researchers have already trod. A similar technique has been shown to work in humans. Back in 2001, Jacques Cohen injected cytoplasm containing mitochondria taken from one woman's egg to the egg of another woman. This technique produced 20 children before the Food and Drug Administration shut it down. Last year, British researchers transferred the nucleus of fertilized human eggs into the enucleated eggs of another woman and let them develop for six days before destroying them.

Unfortunately, this new biotechnical advance has provoked handwringing from the usual cabal of bioconservatives. The Post notes:

Others worried about opening the door to other genetic manipulation. "Unfortunately, we're likely to hear some people saying, 'Okay, we've done this, so why can't we alter the DNA in the nucleus to, say, prevent a predisposition to breast cancer? And if you do it for breast cancer, why can't we do it to weed out a predisposition to baldness?' " said Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society. 

Well, yes. And if repairing or replacing undesirable genes can be done safely, that's a problem, why?    

For more discussion on why safe genetic enhancement is ethical, see my column "Human Rights and Human Enhancement."

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  • D.A. Ridgely||

    At least we know now what URKOBOLD's next Monkey Tuesday lead will be.

  • ||

    Back in 2001, Jacques Cohen injected cytoplasm containing mitochondria taken from one woman's egg to the egg of another woman. This technique produced 20 children before the Food and Drug Administration shut it down.

    Do we know anything about how those children are doing today?

  • Tomcat1066||

    "And if repairing or replacing undesirable genes can be done safely, that's a problem, why? "

    Because then the companies who lobby for the FDA to prevent these procedures couldn't sell their items that treat these conditions. Imagine how poorly Rogaine would sell if no one was bald.

  • John the Savage||

    Wait, what happened when the World State tried a colony that included only Alphas?

  • ||

    Mike: Last time I checked with Cohen (about 2 years ago) all were doing fine. One child is autistic, but the condition does appear to have resulted from the cytoplasm transfer procedure.

  • ||

    Mike: Damn -- should read one's post before posting!

    "...does NOT appear to have resulted from the cytoplasm transfer procedure."

  • hmm||

    1) Was the baby monkey blue?
    2) Could it fly?
    3) When can I get blue flying monkey mitochondria?


    Why on earth people have an aversion to curing or stopping people from living harder lives from day one due to disabilities and genetic disorders is beyond me. You never see the same people bitching and complaining about transplants.

    Do we know anything about how those children are doing today?



    They are currently attending Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

  • Tomcat1066||

    "They are currently attending Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters"

    Don't tease about that shit. It gets my hopes up and then I get pissed when it turns out to be bullshit.

  • bubba||

    " So the only way to prevent these birth defects is to replace these genes."

    Or, you could adopt.

    I think if more people knew the cost and low success rate of IVF ($15k, 40%) then fewer would do it. Square that for mitochondrial manipulation.

    At what point do you just get a donated egg?

    I also wonder how much the mitochondria impact the physical appearances that people are really seeking when they spend buckets of money making babies from their own genes.

  • ||

    Sure, sure, bubba.

    But that all begs the question: If people, for whatever reason, want their very own offspring, and we have a way to prevent those offspring from having genetic defects, why not do it?

  • Naga Sadow||

    Give it time Ron. You won't think my army of flying, death dealing mutants are so safe when they enslave all of humanity.

  • Joe M||

    Anyone belonging to a group with "Society" in the name should be completely ignored.

  • ||

    Defects in mitochondrial DNA contribute to a variety of diseases including stunted growth, blindness, mental retardation, and others.

    So the guy just determines the gender and the woman determines all the friggin' problems. This is too awesome. (heads over to Feministing to sign in...)

  • ||

    DAR,

    Yeah, it's never trouble finding monkey material.

    We're just bound and determined to make one of the other primates our successor, aren't we? Genetic experiments will start with monkeys, resulting in super-genius monkey overlords. After their advent, it'll be too late for us to breed superhumans to fend off the inevitable monkey conquest. Our only hope then will be Japanese robots.

  • Ska||

    So you're telling me Bioshock might not be that far off? Sweet....I'll take some telekenesis, incinerate, and that flying bee swarm jammy please.

  • Naga Sadow||

    it'll be too late for us to breed superhumans

    What? How do you explain my presence here on Earth then?

  • Monkey Chowder||

    Obama Losing Support with Hispanics, Young Voters, But Steady with Liberals (per Gallup):

    http://www.rove.com/polling_notes/0000/0058/Polling_News___Notes_08_27_09.pdf

  • ||

    Genetic experiments will start with monkeys, resulting in super-genius monkey overlords. After their advent, it'll be too late for us to breed superhumans to fend off the inevitable monkey conquest. Our only hope then will be Japanese robots.

    Mr. Libertate, my people will call your people to discuss a movie deal.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Michael Bay | August 27, 2009, 11:56am | #

    Genetic experiments will start with monkeys, resulting in super-genius monkey overlords. After their advent, it'll be too late for us to breed superhumans to fend off the inevitable monkey conquest. Our only hope then will be Japanese robots.

    Mr. Libertate, my people will call your people to discuss a movie deal.


    Damn Pro Lib! That's a burn if I ever saw one. I guess he could have done worse and suggested McG.

  • Just get your tubes tied||

    "But that all begs the question: If people, for whatever reason, want their very own offspring, and we have a way to prevent those offspring from having genetic defects, why not do it?"

    But they aren't really their own offspring anymore, are they? Just mostly.

    You know this is eventually going to ruin the penis enhancement industry.

  • ||

    Must. . .resist. . .Bay's. . .money.

  • Xeones||

    It's dirty money, Pro L.

    Gobs and gobs of dirty, filthy, naughty money.

  • Xeones||

    Some of which was probably used, at some point, to snort blow off of Megan Fox's ass.

  • Tomcat1066||

    "Some of which was probably used, at some point, to snort blow off of Megan Fox's ass."

    I'm in.

  • Tomcat1066||

    Shit. What are we talking about? I heard "Megan Fox's ass" and kind of lost focus.

  • ||

    I heard "Megan Fox's ass" and kind of lost focus.

    Something about genetic enhancement, no discussion of which would be complete without reference to Megan Fox's ass.

  • Banana-eating Jungle Monkey||

    I'm offended.

  • ||

    What troubles me here is the value-laden language. Anyone who raises concerns about long term consequences will be labelled a "bioconservative." Anyone who supports new techniques is touting "good news." I look for more balance in reporting, though in general I am pro-technology...

  • wayne||

    THis is turning into the "Megan Fox Network"... Right wingers!

  • ||

    Sliding Gently Down the Slope Toward Safe Genetic Enhancement



    I much prefer "Climbing Cautiosly Up the Ladder Toward Safe Genetic Enhancement"

  • TallDave||

    I'm against Frankenbabies.

    Under no circumstances should Al Franken be allowed to reproduce.

  • ||

    I think if more people knew the cost and low success rate of IVF ($15k, 40%) then fewer would do it. Square that for mitochondrial manipulation.

    I'm confident that that is all laid out at the initial consultation with the IVF folks. Yet still people opt for it. Funny thing about freedom, some people will make different choices than you or I would.

  • ||

    J sub D is exactly right about the level of disclosure of effectiveness and, I'm sure, cost, for IVF.

    Iron Law No 4. applies:

    4. You aren't free unless you are free to be wrong.

  • ||

    Under no circumstances should Al Franken be allowed to reproduce.

    Too late. He has two kids.

  • ||

    Great. Two more unfunny people who will probably grow up to think they are.

  • ||

    "And if repairing or replacing undesirable genes can be done safely, that's a problem, why? "

    Because 2 problems, one is the old sickle cell vs malaria susceptibilty problem - we don't know the full conseqence of changing one gene, which might leave us open to a different worse proble.
    The second problem is the one of everyone having the same genes. There are reasons farmers don't all plant the same exact species, when they do, one single disease sweeps through state by state wiping out all the crops. Genetic diversity is the thing that keeps neighboring farms alive.

    So, there are dangers, for the same reason eugenics are dangerous. It assumes we know more than we do. If something were popular everyone did it, just that sameness leads us open to danger.

    Though there are arguments that letting people choose will increase diversity, not lessen it, which I hope is the case. Since I can imagine government control would only make the nightmare scenarios almost guaranteed, having only a few "approved" types of modifications, or worse, saying we can't but the connected will still be able to.

  • ||

    Because 2 problems, one is the old sickle cell vs malaria susceptibilty problem - we don't know the full conseqence of changing one gene, which might leave us open to a different worse proble.

    Not an issue here - they are substituting one entire set of mitochondria.

    The second problem is the one of everyone having the same genes.

    We are very, very, very far away from having to deal with that problem.

    It assumes we know more than we do.

    All we need to know for this procedure is that egg A has bad mitochondria, and egg B has good mitochondria.

  • ||

    Well, yes. And if repairing or replacing undesirable genes can be done safely, that's a problem, why?

    Depends on who's deciding which genes are undesirable, I suppose. It's not hard to imagine a government encouraging (or forcing) parents to have children predisposed to be more docile and easily herded.

  • Jesse||

    @Ron and @Mike

    According to this, two of the 17 fetuses had Turner's syndrome

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn767-flawed-fetuses.html

  • ||

    Jesse: Thanks very much for the info and the link. I do note that the Turner's syndrome fetuses did not come to term (one miscarriage and one abortion).

    Again, as far as I know, the 20 kids born using the ooplasm transfer technique are healthy with exception of the one who is autistic.

  • MJ||

    "The goal of the experiment is to repair genetic defects found in mitochondrial DNA."

    Er...no, the goal is to replace genetically damaged mitochrodria with healthy mitochrodria. The DNA of either set of mitochrandria remain untouched. Describing it as "repairing" DNA implies an ability to manipulate DNA directly, and this is not that ambitious.

  • ||

    Will Monsanto get the patent rights on the first perfect soldier? Will Dupont's and Monsanto's Frankensoldiers fight it out for domination of the Frankenfood business?

  • wizard of oz books||

    With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

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