Children could soon be born with three genetic parents

Saw this on the news tonight and it blew my mind - within two years in the UK there could be children who have genetic material from three people through the use of three-person IVF.

Paraphrasing the two processes, a mothers egg which has unhealthy mitochondria has its nucleus removed and placed into a donor egg, which has its own nucleus removed and discarded. The other way is with a embryo, which has the parents nucleus removed and implanted into another embryo - which again, has its own nucleus discarded.

The point of this technique is to eliminate mitochondrial diseases that can in some cases be fatal. As only mitochondrial DNA from the ‘third parent’ are used, it wouldn’t affect things like hair colour, eye colour etc. The material from the third parent is absolutely tiny in proportion to the other two; “They would have more than 20,000 genes from their parents and 37 mitochondrial genes from a donor.” (from link in first para).

It’s an amazing way of pre-empting problems, but naturally causes problems of its own - what rights and responsibilities does the ‘third parent’, the mitochondrial donor, have towards a child that has their own genetic material? How would you feel if you found out that you had three biological parents - should they even have a right to know who it was?

And last but certainly not least - is this the first step in creating genetically-altered designer babies - the world of Gattaca? A threshold of genetic alteration that should not be crossed - where to draw the line if we carry on with embryo manipulation? Is it right to look as a fertilised donor embryo simply as a source of ‘spare parts’, mitochondria in this case? Could you imagine it being legalised and used in other countries (the UK is just the first)?

Presumably no more rights and responsibilities than a guy who chose to donate sperm to a sperm bank.

I think this is a good thing. Why not help prevent needless suffering? Why not help qualified parents bring wanted, healthy and beloved children into this world? I’d love to see this allowed in America. We could couple it with a ban on the Duggars reproducing any further.


You do realize that there are already thousands (probably tens of thousands) of babies in this world who are the product of donated sperm or eggs? There’s already a system in place for those donors, and adding a third donor category really isn’t a big deal.

The research into induced pluripotent stem cells will probably make the use of egg cells obsolete. That means if the other parent has healthy mitochondria, they can just use one of his cells and cause it to revert to an embryonic state. I’m not sure anyone has gone quite that far yet but I don’t think there’s any reason, in theory, why it wouldn’t be possible.

In that case the donor provides 50% of the DNA, as opposed to the tiny fraction of mitochondrial DNA provided by third-party donor of IVF - not to mention, it’s far more socially accepted than a person who can claim to be a parent to a child which already has 2 biological parents.

Although I have to agree working within the established donor system would probably be easiest for all concerned.

You’ve heard of adoption, right? It is completely socially acceptable for the legal parents of a child to not have any genetic relation to the child.

And it ain’t like kids who have different mitochondria than their parents are going to be walking around with that fact permanently tattooed on their faces.

How does that relate to the point of having three biological parents?

As to the second, point, don’t be so sure;
"…any children resulting from the procedure would be monitored closely for the rest of their lives. "
(from the OP link)

It relates because the legal parentage of a child is not defined by who contributed mitochondria, who contributed sperm, who contributed eggs, or who gestated the baby.

The “three parents” headline is intentionally sensationalistic and misleading, like “test tube baby”. The baby will not have three parents, any more than babies conceived by IVF were grown in a test tube.

Yeah, any child conceived using mitochondrial donation would be of interest to researchers and doctors. That means going in for checkups regularly like any child who has potential serious medical conditions, not being treated like a zoo animal.

Ah right, I’m with you now. Although the baby will have three biological parents in so far as three people have contributed towards its being, rather than two - you’re right though that whose biologically responsible for you and who you consider a father or mother are different things.

Three people can currently contribute towards a child’s being. Ever hear of a surrogate?

The concept of “biological parents” is becoming less and less important as more people reach out to assisted reproduction. It’s still important as far as medical and genetic history goes, but legally (in the case of donor and surrogate agreements), socially, and emotionally, it’s who raises the kid who matters.

Thousands of folks donated their genetic material to me. They just did it the old fashioned way and took a couple hundred thousand years to do it.

I don’t get the whole supposed dilemma here…

Well, those are just secondary thoughts - the main issue is whether it’s right to start altering embryos genetically, the implications it might have for the future.

Everyone on Earth is already the result of the genetic mixing of four people.

They’re called grandparents.

It has the following implications:

  1. Fewer crappy genes driving lousy phenotypic outcomes
  2. Ethical dilemmas on whether or not it’s fair to have gotten your better genes artificially instead of the usual sexual pairing crapshoot

I submit the second implication is already addressed for those of us who believe in genes as the primary driver for successful performance in life. At sperm and egg banks, any number of proxies for genetically-driven traits such as looks, personality and intelligence–all of which have been shown to be positively associated with success in life–are assessed by recipients of the sperm or egg donation. An example might be stating the profession of the sperm donor. Was he a physician? A PhD in engineering? Those are proxies for intelligence genes underpinning those skillsets. And so on.

There might be a third implication:
3. Laying to rest for good the silly and outdated notion that all genes are about the same with the exception of genes coding for disease states. Yeah, sure…probably just luck that one guy is an MIT engineering PhD and the next guy only got his high school GED before tackling his job as a WalMart greeter.

Who themselves did not have parents and grandparents?

Personally, I think there might be a case for arguing that the donor isn’t genetically related to the child at all.

After all, mitochondria are essentially completely separate organisms, so mitochondrial DNA isn’t going to have any effect on the child in question. IMO they wouldn’t be any more related to the child than an organ donor.

Well… Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth…

What? Mitochondrial DNA will affect cell metabolism. You’re kind of dead without mitochondria, and it’s mitochondrial diseases that have inspired this sort of special transfer. And if the child is female, then she’ll be passing those “donor” mitochondria down to her children someday. Those “separate organisms” will be much more a part of the child than a donor kidney.

None. I’m part of the bone marrow registry, and although I have a rare HLA, it’s possible I might someday match someone who needs bone marrow. If I do donate to them, they will have some of my dna too because my healthy marrow will continue to replicate in their bodies for the rest of their life. If the recipient is a child, I have no rights or obligations to them. How would donating mitochondria be any different?