UK to Become Leading Manufacturer of Babies


(photo: Shutterstock/Alex Mit)

The United Kingdom is poised to become a world leader in manufacturing. The product: genetically engineered babies and human clones.

That’s the trajectory of votes this month, first in the House of Commons and just this week in the House of Lords. Approval of the concept by the British Parliament paves the way for clinics to create babies who will have DNA contribution from two mums and a dad.

The techniques proposed to create three-parent babies purport to “treat” mitochondrial genetic diseases. Mitochondria are small energy factories within every cell of the human body, with tens to thousands of mitochondria in each cell.

Just as the DNA in the cell nucleus is subject to mutation, so the DNA within these mitochondria can become mutated, leading to serious and even lethal conditions. We inherit all our mitochondria from our mothers, through the egg, and if the egg contains mutated mitochondria, we inherit those genetic diseases resulting from the mutations.

The mechanisms targeted for production of three-parent embryos are Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST) and Pro-Nuclear Transfer (PNT). In MST, the nuclear DNA from an egg with mutated mitochondria is transferred to an egg with unmutated mitochondria; this second egg would already have its own nuclear DNA removed. The reconstituted egg (with parts, including DNA, from two original eggs) would then be fertilized with sperm.

In PNT, two embryos are created — one using an egg that has mutated mitochondria and one using an egg containing unmutated mitochondria. These two embryos are then destroyed to recombine the nuclear DNA from the affected embryo with the cytoplasm containing unmutated DNA from the second embryo, creating a third, engineered embryo.

In both techniques, the resulting embryos contain DNA from two women and one man.

The new DNA combination that occurs from these genetic engineering manipulations will be inherited in every cell of the body, including the germ line — the cells that go on to produce eggs or sperm — and so those genetic alterations will be passed to future generations.

While the proposed laboratory techniques are often termed “mitochondrial replacement” or “mitochondrial donation,” they are not simply the plugging in of new mitochondria for old within a cell. Nor are they mere switching of batteries or akin to replacing an automobile engine, as proponents of the techniques claim. Mitochondria do more than simply power up the cell. The fact that their mutated DNA leads to such diverse, tragic conditions affecting hearing, vision, the pancreas or neuromuscular development is compelling proof that mitochondria have a larger role in our physiological balance. Nor is mitochondrial replacement akin to organ transplant.

A transplanted kidney may alleviate physiological problems within my body, but my progeny do not inherit the kidney nor does it change the DNA content of every cell in my body.

What is proposed is not a therapeutic treatment at all. Completely overlooked in the debate are those who actually suffer from mitochondrial diseases. The genetic engineers ignore all those people in favor of creating new individuals who will — they hope — not carry the mitochondrial genetic mutations. I say “they hope,” because there is little evidence regarding safety for the new babies, their mothers or future generations.

There has also been a paucity of discussion of existing research with new genetic “scissors” techniques, adult stem-cell vectors or targeted drugs, all of which show potential to alleviate problems in those currently living with these mitochondrial diseases.

These new embryo-creation methods are eugenic in nature, yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been asked to approve creation of three-parent embryos. It is perhaps not surprising that those asking to create three-parent embryos in the United States, and the most vocal proponents at the FDA hearing in February 2014, were cloners — scientists who have succeeded in producing cloned human embryos.

The techniques used to manufacture three-parent embryos are indistinguishable from the manipulations used to create cloned embryos. How long before a proposal comes forward to gestate human clones to birth?

The proposal to create genetically designed babies is flawed scientifically and ethically and presages a new eugenics initiative that the world should vigorously condemn.

David A. Prentice, Ph.D., is vice president

and research director at the Charlotte Lozier Institute

in Washington, an advisory board member of the

Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center and founder of

Stem Cell Research Facts to educate on the science and

therapeutic benefits of stem cells.