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The Food and Drug Administration is weighing the benefits of a bold new technique that produces embryos with DNA from three people. It may sound crazy, but the Associated Press reports that the FDA is currently deciding if it should allow research labs to pursue the experimental technique, which could help prevent children from inheriting genetic diseases. Meanwhile, those opposed to the procedure say that approving three parent embryos could lead to ‘designer babies.’
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The experimental procedure takes a normally impregnated embryo and introduces the DNA of a third female embryo. If approved, scientists in the United States could begin testing with embryos from women who have defective genes linked to blindness, organ failure and many other inheritable diseases. Current animal tests suggest that three-parent embryos could produce healthier offspring. However, experts in the field have warned researchers that it could take decades to see if the resulting children are truly healthy.
The FDA is currently gathering evidence to determine the experimental technique’s safety. Framing its meeting as a purely “technical discussion,” the administration isn’t yet discussing the ethical and social policy issues surrounding the genetic modification of embryos. But arguments against messing around with miracle of life are mounting already. One argument suggests it could easily lead to designer babies with customizable eye color, height, and intelligence.
Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society noted that the FDA could be the first organization in the world to allow the intentional genetic modification of children and their descendants. Whereas 40 other countries – including Germany and France – have passed laws banning human genetic changes that can be passed on to future generations.
As a counterpoint, the Oregon Health and Science University presented its successful attempts to create five healthy monkeys using a technique that replaces the defective mitochondrial DNA with that of a healthy donor. In the realm of people, an estimated 1 in 4,000 U.S. children inherit diseases due to mutations in their mitochondrial DNA. Three person embryos could be the key to saving thousands of children from inherited diseases. If the discussions raised this week are any indication, genetic modification has a long road of safety evaluations and ethical debates ahead of it.