Britain Appears Ready to Approve New IVF Procedure

The process would use genetic material from three people to avoid serious genetic diseases. Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin talks with journalist Jessica Griggs about the procedure.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Britain is the country where the first test tube baby was born. Now, the United Kingdom is considering another groundbreaking - and controversial - fertility procedure. The British government appears ready to legalize a process in which a baby is conceived with the genetic material from three people. The science goes like this. Inside every mother's egg cells are all of her genes. All her DNA is packed inside the nucleus. And when she has a child, her DNA gets passed down.

But, there's also another thing inside that egg cell that mother passes on too - her mitochondria. About one in every 6,000 babies ends up getting defective mitochondria DNA from their mother. And a lot of the time, the defects are small. But sometimes, they cause muscle weakness, blindness, even death. In a new procedure, the mother would swap her mitochondria, if it was faulty, for a healthy third person's mitochondria.

Jessica Griggs, a writer with the New Scientist magazine in London, explains.

JESSICA GRIGGS: The idea with these techniques is to allow women that want to have a genetically-related child to have a child without the risk of passing along these faulty DNA.

MARTIN: But there are certainly those out there who are concerned about this procedure. Critics say this is a dangerous precedent that could lead to a world where scientists are allowed to create quote, "designer babies." Jessica Griggs says that maybe overstating it.

GRIGGS: That donor's mitochondria only contribute less than 0.2 percent of their overall DNA, which is a tiny amount and far less than you would get if you had a blood transfusion or an organ transplant. And that the public debate that we had in this country showed that most people rejected the idea of the donor being seen as a parent for this reason. You know, they would remain anonymous, they wouldn't have any rights to the child, that kind of thing.

And also, it's valid to say that the mitochondrial DNA themselves, they're not supposed to do anything in terms of making us, us. So all of the important genetic information, for example, that determines our appearance, intelligence, sporting prowess, that's all coded in the DNA from the nucleus that you get from both parents.

MARTIN: The British government plans a vote on this procedure next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.