A revolutionary (but controversial) IVF breakthrough makes it possible to create a baby using DNA from three different people.
A baby born from three parents might sound like some crazy, science fiction-y, year 2075-type stuff, but 1) it's already a thing, and 2) it's pretty freaking amazing. (And this isn't even the only great fertility news this week; a woman just gave birth to a baby using ovarian tissue that was frozen back when she was only 9 years old. Whoa.)
The U.K. just approved this revolutionary (but controversial) IVF technique that will help mothers who could pass on potentially fatal diseases give birth to healthy babies, as reported by the Associated Press. The procedure will help prevent conditions like deafness, blindness, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and heart, kidney, and liver failure caused by inherited mitochondrial diseases—which affect an estimated 1 in 4,000 babies, according to a study published in Fertility and Sterility.
How does it work? Either before or after fertilization by the father's sperm, the DNA from the nucleus of a mother's egg is removed and inserted into a donor egg where the nucleus DNA has already been taken out. The embryo then contains DNA from all three people—nucleus DNA from its parents and mitochondrial DNA from the donor, meaning donor DNA makes up less than 1 percent of the embryo's DNA, according to the AP. (So, don't worry, the baby would probably still have your eyes.)
In case you need a high school science recap: Mitochondria is the part of the cell that's responsible for creating 90 percent of the energy needed to sustain life and support organ function. When a mitochondrial disease is present, inherited or spontaneous gene mutations occur within the mitochondria, leading to their failure, which in turn leads to the failure of whole organ systems, according to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.
This decision comes just a few months after the first baby was born using this technique, as revealed to the world by New Scientist in September. The now 8-month-old boy was born in Mexico to Jordanian parents. The mother carries the genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal nervous disorder that killed their first two children; the success of the procedure means they finally have a healthy baby who still shares their DNA.
This is huge for women who carry the genes for these disorders and who want to have healthy babies without resorting to donors or adoption. But the procedure is not without its critics. After all, it does seem very sci-fi (and potentially scary) to pick and choose which parts of a baby you want to include—whether it's for health reasons or otherwise. That's why one argument against the procedure is that this opens the door to the world of "designer babies," according to David King, director of the Human Genetics Alert group, as reported by the AP. (And with so many people confused about genetically modified foods, just imagine how crazy it gets with genetically modified humans.)