After spending several years interviewing scientists and holding public forums to debate ethics and air concerns, the U.K.’s lower house of Parliament this week voted to allow babies to be born with three genetic parents.
While some call it a perversion, the procedure has nothing at all to do with kinky sex. Rather, it’s a highly advanced single-cell micro-surgery, replete with cutting-edge lasers and imaging software and, yes, even a joystick, whereby a small number of skilled geneticists is able to remove the nucleus of a donor woman’s egg (the part that plays host to some 25,000 genes) from its surrounding cytoplasm (in which reside 37 genes) and insert the intended mother’s nucleus in its place…
The purpose of the procedure, also called mitochondrial gene replacement therapy, is not to tweak the physical characteristics or personality traits of a child – those reside in the nucleus, which still belongs wholly to the intended mother. Rather, it is to swap out that mother’s faulty mitochondrial DNA – those pesky 37 genes that power every cell in our bodies save red blood cells – with a healthy donor’s.
Because when mitochondrial DNA fail to provide energy to our cells, dozens and possibly hundreds of diseases can result, causing a wide range of problems that include extreme fatigue, dementia, stunted growth, deafness, blindness, multi-organ failure, and even death…
This kind of genetic mixing crosses the so-called germ line – the series of cells through which genes pass down through future generations – which is outlawed in dozens of countries, including the UK, hence the need for Parliament to make an exception. And while it’s not yet illegal in the US, the FDA has hesitated for several years to approve the first clinical trials here. “Maybe the FDA will wait for the results if they don’t want to conduct clinical trials here,” Mitalipov said.
That sounds about right for the United States. I’ve lived through a lifetime of governments whose only concept of adventure involves military hardware and killing furriners. Add into the equation Congress which has become fearful unto death of the religious right – and you know in advance what chance enabling legislation might have.
Shades of the American Family Whatever! The United States began a backwards trudge to the 19th Century when Ronald Reagan removed solar panels from the roof of the White House. The few years of progress we found during a fraction of Obama’s first term will probably be revoked if both conservative and nutball Republicans acquire the White House in addition to Congress. Should more than 35% of eligible voters crawl out from wherever they hide – and Hillary is elected along with a supportive Congress – we might get another year or two of change before political cowardice resumes its traditional place in a collapsing imperial nation.
We’ll continue our journey on the way to becoming 1950 England.