Three Parent Children

By: Tim Wright

Parents and children in carGreat Britain has legalized a procedure that allows a child to be conceived from three biological parents.  The procedure would take the mitochondria from the egg of a donor, and insert them into the egg of another woman, and then fertilize that egg with the sperm of a man.  This procedure is intended for women who have genetic diseases that can be passed on through mitochondria.  This procedure is highly controversial due to the unconventional nature of the conception.

Mitochondria are the organelles within each cell that generate power for the rest of the cell.  They are essentially the cell’s power supply.  They have their own DNA, separate from the DNA of the rest of the cell, which is why it is possible to incorporate the mitochondria of another person into an egg.  The egg can still maintain its own DNA, meaning that the child would incorporate genetic coding from the mother’s egg, the father’s sperm, as well as the donor’s energy generating mitochondria.

The purpose of the procedure is to prevent diseases from being passed on genetically from the mother’s mitochondria. These diseases include epilepsy, diabetes, bad eyesight, progressive infantile poliodystrophy, and more.  The mitochondria that would have caused these diseases are removed from the egg cells and replaced by those from a donor.  These mitochondria have no effect on the mental and physical traits of the individual, only the biochemical reactions that body uses to generate energy.

The procedure starts by collecting eggs from the two females.  Then, using microscopes, microsurgical needles and lasers, they remove the nuclei from the cells with faulty mitochondria and replace them with the mitochondria of the donor.  The nuclei from the donor are placed into the cytoplasm of the egg cells. The procedure takes approximately one hour.  As a result, the mother has her own egg cells with nuclei that contain healthy mitochondria from the donor female.  

The procedure is legal in Great Britain, but not in the United States.  The FDA is still reviewing whether to allow clinical trials in the US. Some people view this procedure as highly controversial, for essentially the same reasons as stem cell research.  Some feel that the procedure amounts to “playing God” because it is transcending the natural way in which a human being is created. It is also controversial because there could be unknown side effects, as it is impossible to tell every effect that the donor mitochondria might have on future development of the resulting embryo.

With greater research and understanding, the process can be fine tuned to minimize potential risks and to limit the controversial aspects.  With a well-planned system of regulations, it can be used by only those people who would be unable to conceive a disease-free child without a  different set of maternal mitochondria.  It is unclear what role, if any, the third parent will play in the pregnancy, and how the system will be regulated, but the potential is certainly groundbreaking and extraordinary.