Biotechnology

Heather Has Two Mommies and a Daddy

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2 eggs, sperm not pictured

A U.K. research team is making serious progress in the production of three-parent embryos. A few three-parented children already walk among us, the product of some work done in the late 1990s. But the process was banned by the Food and Drug Administration shortly thereafter. Research continues in the U.K.

The goal is to prevent children inheriting a rare group of serious diseases caused by faulty mitochondria, the powerhouses in our cells, [which are inherited from the mother only]. Mitochondrial diseases affect at least 1 in 8000 people, probably more, and there are no treatments.

Here's how it works:

The procedure would involve fertilising a woman's egg by in-vitro fertilisation outside the body and transplanting the fertilised nucleus to an egg from another woman which has had its nucleus removed.

Any child born following implantation of such an embryo would have cells containing a nucleus with genes from both parents, and mitochondria from a woman other than their mother.

So while a certain stripe of social conservatives are wringing their hands and fretting about the possibility that gay marriage might open the door for polyamory, scientists are on the verge of assembling babies with three biological parents. (Most of the genetic material will be from the two parents of the first fertilized egg, of course, mitochondria have only a smidge of genetic material. Still…)

I can't help but feel that this whole thing is just an elaborate joke on the Leon Kasses and Stanley Kurtzes of the world.

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  1. OK, so…um, cool.

    Is that it?

  2. I’ve seen porn where they did pretty much the same thing, but orally.

  3. It sounds like a way to produce a child from some pair of parents, with a correction for a genetic flaw. I don’t see the problem, provided double blind clinical studies can be done to prove to the FDA that it is safe and effective, assuming it is.

  4. I don’t see the problem, provided double blind clinical studies can be done to prove to the FDA that it is safe and effective, assuming it is.

    Or if it isn’t safe, to make potential customers aware of the risks so they make an informed decision.

  5. I can’t help but feel that this whole this is just an elaborate joke on the Leon Kasses and Stanley Kurtzes of the world.

    Which would be a sufficiently worthy end in my book.

  6. This will create the Y2.008K bug in genealogy tracking software.

  7. Years from now this is going to create chaos in forensic science. Won’t someone think of the CSIs?

  8. A few three-parented children already walk among us

    Do any of them look like this?

  9. Won’t somebody think of the children? It was bad enough growing up with ONE mom yelling at me to clean my room, turn off the tv, do my homework, etc.

  10. Or if it isn’t safe, to make potential customers aware of the risks so they make an informed decision.

    Nope, if it isn’t safe it should be banned, just like unsafe drugs.

  11. M’ hit my only real concern on the nose. Right now we are just getting to the point where Mitochondrial DNA is being used to track lineage back to the beginning of mankind. This could really throw some anomalies into that chart.

    Of course, that assumes that every single one of us is tested and that the testing organization could loose track of said “two mommy anomalies”. I mean really, only the Government is that inept so what is there to worry about? It’s not like we are headed towards a mandatory DNA registry or anything. Right?

  12. Good one Juanita!

    LMNOP, you have to admit you set her up that one.

    Playing Into the Hands of a Troll??, New from Hasbro!

  13. But the process was banned by the Food and Drug Administration shortly thereafter.

    KMW, what reasoning did the FDA use to justify banning this? I’m really curious because I can’t think of a rational one.

  14. Nope, if it isn’t safe it should be banned, just like unsafe drugs.

    For “the greater good”, I imagine.

    Well, there goes Tylenol. That shit is like 50 times more dangerous than nicotine and a *bajillion* times more dangerous than marijuana. And it doesn’t even matter how big a bajillion really is…

    While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the mentally damaging stuff, too. Like sex, and violence in the media.

    Ah fuck, looks like we just got rid of Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and the Bible.

  15. To Juanita, my destined soul-mate –

    If I could have just one wish,
    I would wish to wake up everyday
    to the sound of your breath on my neck,
    the warmth of your lips on my cheek,
    the touch of your fingers on my skin,
    and the feel of your heart beating with mine…
    Knowing that I could never find that feeling
    with anyone other than you.

    Sent with my undying love
    J sub D

  16. Feed the trolls and they will dance for you.

  17. I’m pretty sure that a cell can have more than one mitochondrion. I wonder if one could produce an egg with mitochondria from multiple sources, leading to a child with more than 3 parents!

  18. So long as someone quickly distinguishes in the law whether parentage descends from main genetic material or from mitochondrial genetic material, it shouldn’t even get that complicated.

  19. Nope, if it isn’t safe it should be banned, just like unsafe drugs.

    As the no-knock police raids demonstrate, government itself is not safe. I agree with Juanita that government should be banned!

  20. I appear to be the only one thinking this:

    If Woman A has bad mitochondria so we want Woman B’s instead and we are doing in vitro fertilization anyway, wouldnt just be easier to use all of Woman B’s egg?

    If Woman A raises the spawn, she is the mommy, regardless of genetic material.

    This isnt a commentary on the legality, just my thoughts towards the people that we be using this.

  21. robc —

    I can definitely see how a person could regard as important that their own genetic material resides in their offspring, rather than essentially adopting a genetic stranger.

    I think I might care, though I don’t know just how many would.

  22. I don’t see the problem, provided double blind clinical studies can be done to prove to the FDA that it is safe and effective, assuming it is.

    The parents’ participation in this process is all established procedure.

    Safe for the child? As opposed to how safe and effective the serious mitochondrial diseases for which there is no cure are?

  23. So while a certain stripe of social conservatives are wringing their hands and fretting about the possibility that gay marriage

    I haven’t figured out why, yet, but I’ll bet you that liberals ain’t gonna like this either. For different reasons, obviously, but they’ll find something they won’t like about it. I’m kind of getting that, “unregulated fertility industry, women not getting all the information they need and thus aren’t making the right decisions so we gotta make the decisions for them” kind of vibe.

  24. Elemenope,

    I agree, but if you feel that way, you should feel that way about your mitochondria too.

  25. Episiarch,

    Surprisingly, they all look like this.

    Hence the FDA ban.

  26. I haven’t figured out why, yet, but I’ll bet you that liberals ain’t gonna like this either. For different reasons, obviously, but they’ll find something they won’t like about it. I’m kind of getting that, “unregulated fertility industry, women not getting all the information they need and thus aren’t making the right decisions so we gotta make the decisions for them” kind of vibe.

    Let me try that one. You exploited the woman whose mitochondrial healthy egg was harvested, then given to the obviously wealthy, thus unfairly privileged couple.

  27. I don’t see the problem, provided double blind clinical studies can be done to prove to the FDA that it is safe and effective, assuming it is.

    But, what if in the process of performing the double-blind clinical studies An Unspeakable Horror(tm) was unleashed?

    Even if a merely icky thing was created? Even if the procedure was banned, we’d still have the icky thing, and the question of what to do with it.

    You mad scientist apologists scare me.

    Going off to gather more nuts and berries, then pick the fleas off my family while we tremble at the moon and pray for the sun to rise.

  28. I agree, but if you feel that way, you should feel that way about your mitochondria too.

    Nah, the cases are asymmetrical. If you are A (with bad mitochondria) and mated with B, with C’s good mitochondria inserted, the resulting child would have roughly from each source material in these proportions: A 45%, B 50%, C 5%. So, genetically it’s 45% your kid.

    The alternative you propose is subbing the entire good egg, making the new proportions: A 0%, B 50%, C 50%.

    45 is an awful large number when compared to 0.

  29. Actually, the mitochondrial genome contains much less than 1% as many genes as the nucleus.

  30. Thanks, thoreau. πŸ™‚

    Well, that makes the two situations even more disparate.

  31. Of course, some cells have more than a thousand mitochondria, so that might push the fraction of total DNA into the territory of 1%.

    BTW, what I said about the number of genes was misleading. Yes, the mitochondria have only about 50 genes or so (compared with 20,000 or so in the nucleus), but they also have very little “junk” DNA compared with the nucleus. Some of that “junk” DNA is turning out to have important functions. So the fraction of total genetic material in the mitochondria is actually quite small.

    I’m fascinated by the idea of a kid with dozens of parents: Just get a whole bunch of mitochondria from different people and put them into the egg.

  32. lmnop,

    All (well 50%+mitochondrial dna) or nothing. All or nothing.

    If Im willing to pass on 1 “outsider” gene, I dont see why another 1, or another, or a few bajillion more, makes a difference. I dont see there being a “threshold”, but maybe thats just me.

  33. I think everyone is missing an important question here. Will it allow an individual to dodge a paternity test? Cause I’m always looking for backup plans.

  34. If Im willing to pass on 1 “outsider” gene, I dont see why another 1, or another, or a few bajillion more, makes a difference. I dont see there being a “threshold”, but maybe thats just me.

    I think you’ve got it backwards, robc. It’s not that someone doesn’t want to pass on an “outsider” gene, it’s that they want to pass on their own genetic material. If that is the case, then it certainly makes sense to accept the mitochondrial help as an alternative to passing on none of your own.

  35. I’m pretty sure that a cell can have more than one mitochondrion. I wonder if one could produce an egg with mitochondria from multiple sources, leading to a child with more than 3 parents!

    Why not just take one chromosome each from 46 people, you only need one male for the X then 45 women, although the conventional way of combining your DNA with 45 women would be way more fun.

  36. With the resulting offspring getting 2/3 of their genetic makeup from women, will the overall moodiness of the species increase?

  37. THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE!

  38. Meh, this is sort of like saying we already have polygamy because guys cheat on their wives. I mean, if we elevate “mitochondrial parenthood” to the same level as “nucleic parenthood”, aren’t mothers twice the parents that fathers are?

  39. I’ve seen porn where they did pretty much the same thing, but orally.

    lol

  40. FDA asserted jurisdiction over these procedures on the rather strained legal theory that a donated gamete (or portion thereof) is a “biological [drug]”, and that the person performing the procedure is marketing a drug, and that such marketing is in interstate commerce until proven otherwise — and because they can seize the material until it is proven otherwise. Nobody’s bothered to litigate the issue, even though the odds are high that they’d win.

    FDA has as a fallback position that the chemicals and labware used in the procedure are drugs or medical devices, and that the parties marketing such products do so in the knowledge that (and therefore “intend” that) they will be used for in vitro fertiliz’n, even though any reasonable look will show that these are general use items.

    So really the only reason FDA is in the way is that it hasn’t been worth anyone’s while to litigate. And that’s true for a lot of what FDA does.

  41. As a polyamory advocate, anything that gets Stanley Kurtz’s panties in a bunch makes me happy.

  42. Why can’t I find polyamory in the Online Dictionary?

  43. Of course it must be banned. This procedure makes a mockery of the idea that the soul enters the embryo at conception. (as if identical twins hadn’t already.) Therefore just ban it and don’t think.

  44. And three parents might actively choose this as an ideal (although, as you point out, it’s nearly meaningless without more equal contribution than just mitochondria from one of the mothers — and I’m assuming there’s little chance more equal contribution will be either practical genetically or practical to test/implement).

    I’m part of a three-person life partnership (/marriage), with two female partners and one male partner. We’re raising our baby as three equal parents. My wife gave birth to this baby; if we decide to have another kid, I’ll give birth to the second baby. This is how a few other mff triads we know have approached family-building as well — the two females alternating the bio-parenting.

    It’s an interesting fantasy, the baby with three equal genetic parents. But I don’t see it becoming more than a fantasy, at least within my own less-than-a-decade of easy childbearing years. πŸ™‚

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