Hello bloggers and welcome to the last blog before the lovely long summer holiday! We thought that as this was the last post for this academic year we might raise something a little controversial that has been in the news this week. Headlines have been full of the news that science has found a way to make children from 3 parents, so we want to explore some of the issues surrounding that.
Firstly, whether you think this is great, or an example of scientists playing God, let’s just say how amazing it is that technology is capable of such a thing. But now it’s supposedly possible, why would someone want to create a child with 3 biological parents? Well, strictly speaking you could argue that scientists aren’t trying to give children 3 parents – what they are suggesting is that the technique could be used to replace faulty genes from one parent (in this case the technology has been developed to replace genes from the mother) with non-faulty genes from a donor. This means that there is the potential to stop babies growing up with certain genetic disorders. A genetic disorder is a disease that is passed on to a child through the DNA of its parents (although the parents may not have the disease themselves). Because these disorders are passed on in this way they can often be seen in many people within the same family. These disorders can be horrible and many currently do not have a cure.
From both the technological and the ethical standpoint, this is fascinating. What scientists are discussing is not some Hollywood style splicing together of 2 eggs, but taking the basic genetic structure of 1 donor egg and implanting the DNA from the mother. As much of our basic genetic information is carried in the mitochondria (a very primitive part of a cell which carries a total of 37 genes), using a donor egg and implanting DNA within it would theoretically give a child most of its characteristics from its mother, but would mean that the child inherits the healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor instead of the mother’s mitochondria, which may carry faulty genes. The final embryo would have 0.2% of its genetic information from the donor, everything else would come from the mother and the father.
This technology is still a long way off being commonly used and much more research into long term effects is required. But it gives you something to think about over the summer break. If you knew that you could pass on a faulty gene to a child, would you use this technology to stop that? If you do not carry faulty genes would you be prepared to donate your cells? Is it our responsibility as sentient (thinking) beings, to use technology where we can to get rid of diseases?
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Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.