For one thing, babies born via this technique would possess DNA from three people — the mother, the father and an unrelated egg donor — rather than the usual two. And it would be the first time that a genetic treatment has been licensed that affects not just the individual in question, but his or her descendants, too.
How does it work? The treatment relies on the fact that mitochondria are not just another part of a living cell. They are the distant descendants of bacteria that, a billion years ago, gave up their free-living lifestyle to form symbiotic partnerships with other cells. As a result, mitochondria possess their own tiny genomes, entirely separate from the much bigger hunk of DNA that sits inside the cell nucleus. Although the British and American researchers are using different techniques, the basic idea is the same: to give the baby a fully working set of mitochondria donated by another woman.
The scientists take an egg with damaged mitochondria, remove the nucleus and the DNA it contains and transplant it into a second, donor egg, whose nucleus has been removed but whose mitochondria are working normally. The result is a baby that will have nuclear DNA inherited from its mother and father in the usual way, but mitochondria inherited from the egg donor. Yet the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority HFEA , which regulates fertility treatments in Britain, found that when it explained the procedure to a sample of the British public, most were in favour.
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