US fertility researchers from the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of Saint Barnabas in New Jersey have created 30 healthy babies who have been genetically altered. It has been confirmed that two of these children have the DNA of three parents.
A combination photo shows six of half a million babies born around the world on October 31, 2011 that will push the global population to the milestone of seven billion. The world's population will reach seven billion on October 31, 2011 according to projections by the United Nations, which says this global milestone presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the planet. The babies are from (L-R, top to bottom) Venezuela, Philippines, Russia, the U.S., India and Georgia.
The babies were created when women were treated for infertility by Professor Jacques Cohen and his team. Their eggs had defects in tiny structures in their egg cells called mitochondria. They had mitochondria from donor eggs inserted into these eggs, as well as DNA from sperm cells. The mitochondria contain DNA and therefore have carried the donor DNA into the egg. The babies will now pass on this genetic change to their children down the maternal line when they reproduce.
Professor Cohen is regarded as a controversial but brilliant pioneer in the world of reproductive medicine. His work on helping infertile couples has resulted in advances in the ability to help infertile men have their own offspring, by inserting genetic material from sperm into egg cells so that donor sperm is not required. However, many see that some of his research, and some of his claims, to be a step too far, such as the claim that he could clone children.
Worthless and dangerous tinkering
Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: "Regarding the treatment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain."
A spokesman for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) agreed that due to the possibility of altering the human germ line, it would not license the technique in Britain. However, the less rigid rules on fertilization treatment in other countries mean that this kind of technology could allow modifications to the gene pool worldwide. Whilst these are the first "healthy" babies that have been genetically modified, the long term effects of carrying DNA from three parents is not known.
The technique used could allow the parents of a child to choose a third parent with traits they wish their children to have, such as being taller, and would open up the whole debate about the ethics of designer babies. As a species, we have to be very careful that our inventions, such as this technique, do not cause damage to the genes of our future descendants.
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