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?