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article imageDebate surges over case of creating a baby from DNA of two women

By R. C. Camphausen     Apr 15, 2010 in Science
A team of British scientists has created 80 human embryos containing DNA from two women and one man. This could, in the future, result in fertility treatments for women who now have an inherited disease such as muscular dystrophy.
In February, UK scientists succeeded in creating 80 human embryos based on combined DNA from two women and one man in a procedure researchers hope to use one day to produce embryos free of inherited diseases.
The news went under the radar until this week when it was picked up by various news sites including The Telegraph, the BBC and The Sun.
Opponents are waking up and speaking out against the practice.
Josephine Quintavalle of the anti-cloning group CORE (Comment on Reproductive Ethics), told The Sun, "They are creating a child with two mothers. We have to find better ways to cure diseases."
Quintavalle told The Telegraph:
“In terms of experiments this is the worst that anyone has come up with. It is completely distorting the natural process. We have no clue what the long-term consequences will be.”
In order to carry out the practice, scientists need a special license granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Such a license to carry out the study was previously refused on two occasions, yet was finally granted five years ago. Current laws prevent the technique from being used in fertility treatment at regular IVF clinics.
The 80 embryos were kept alive for only 8 days. Now, the debate over ethics versus medical benefits is raging.
The research has funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, and the team under Professor Doug Turnbull had used newly fertilised eggs left over from IVF treatment.
How is it done? As the BBC explains:
The nuclei from the father's sperm and the mother's egg, which contain the parents' DNA, were removed, leaving behind the faulty mitochondria. The nuclei were put into another egg from which the nucleus had been removed, but which retained its mitochondria. This new embryo contained the genes from both parents plus a tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg.
Opponents who challenge the ethics of the practice say this means there are "two mothers" for a child. Scientists, on the other hand, disagree; they say there isn't three parents or two mothers because only trace amounts of a person's genes come from the third persons' mitochondria, while the DNA of the male/female parenting pair is transferred to the baby in full.
The team of researchers and scientists from Newcastle say, in total, the DNA from the donor mother made up less than 0.2 per cent of total DNA in the new egg. The breakthrough in embryonic and mitochondrial research has been hailed by the the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, who hope this new technique can help stop children from being born with mutations in the mitochondrial DNA which sometimes can lead to fatal conditions, including muscular weakness, blindness and heart failure.
According to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, one in 200 children are born each year with mutations in the mitochondrial DNA.
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