This past summer, the United Kingdom announced it would pursue the legalization of three-parent in vitro fertilization. If it sounds a bit like science fiction to you, you’re not alone. In this radical process, identified problem-DNA from the mother is spliced out and replaced with healthy DNA from a third women, which eliminates the chance of certain genetic disorders related to mitochondria. It also results in a baby with three parents… and this is where the controversy begins.
Essentially, the baby will have a father and a “main” mother. However, it will have a second woman’s DNA that codes for the cell’s mitochondria (the “batteries” of the cell essentially… if you remember that fun analogy from your grade-school science class). The scientists developing this technique say that the modified genes rest outside the cell nucleus and therefore will not modify the child’s appearance or character. It will, in effect, just greatly eliminate the chance of developing heart, brain, and muscle disorders that result from defective mitochondrial DNA.
Due to backlash from the politicians, ethicists, and many in the international community, Parliament recently decided to take some more times to mull over their final decision about whether to allow the new version of in vitro fertilization. Still, it’s gotten the rest of the world thinking: this past fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that they will consider the possibilities of allowing three-parent embryo.
However, there are more than a few concerns regarding this revolutionary idea. From a scientific perspective, researchers haven’t achieved a 100%-success rate with the animals they have tested the procedure on, so there is a chance that something will go genetically wrong with the new embryo.
On an ethical level, the prospect of a three-parent child is freaking a LOT of people out. The transplanted DNA will be a part of not only the embryo but of all descendants of this embryo. As science and technology improves, we will undoubtedly discover other potential genetic transplants that could aid the embryo as it develops. This could leave the door open for all sorts of gene transplants and may put the human race on a slippery slope towards eugenics.
There is a serious social justice aspect to this, as well, because the three-parent embryo IVF process is incredibly expensive. Only the wealthiest people will be able afford to genetically “improve” their children. Many people fear the long-term implications this may have.
The possibilities and potential are fascinating… and more than a little terrifying.
What do you think? Should science dive ahead into this brave new world? Or should we hang back and take some time to really consider all the consequences of our technological advances?