A difference of opinions surrounds the DNA procedure, which took place in Mexico because it’s banned in the U.S.
Each year, more than four million couples in the United States learn the world’s greatest miracle has taken place in their lives. Within a matter of weeks, almost a quarter of those parents find visions of their little ones’ faces and counting ten tiny fingers and toes shattered as a result of miscarriage.
Though more than 80 percent are ultimately blessed with the warmth of a tiny bundle of joy in their arms, an estimated 60,000 infants have their futures ripped away from them within the first year after birth.
Genetic disorders are responsible for a majority of those heartbreaking endings to what should be the happiest moments in new parents’ lives.
A Newborn Makes Headlines
While scientists have been working to prevent these tragedies for decades, they’ve been faced with roadblocks virtually every step of the way, until recently. Earlier this year, a newborn made history as the first to be born through a revolutionary procedure.
Known as mitochondrial transfer, this first-of-its-kind technique uses DNA from three parents rather than two, and it has the potential to alter the course of conception as we know it.
Mom and dad in this case understand the statistics all too well. Following four miscarriages and the loss of two young children due to Leigh syndrome, a genetic disorder carried by the mother, the couple realized it was time to pursue a different avenue to having a healthy child.
They met up with a team of American fertility specialists led by Dr. John Zhang for the experimental and highly controversial proceedings.
Altering Human DNA
In this case, the nucleus from the mother’s egg, as well as that of a donor egg, were removed. Mom’s nucleus was inserted into the donor egg, and the egg was fertilized with the father’s sperm.
The fertilized egg was then implanted in the mother’s uterus, free of the Leigh syndrome responsible for the death of her previous children. Nine months later, a healthy baby boy made his way into the world.
He isn’t the first to be conceived using DNA from three people; in fact, a number similar of genetic modifications took place during the 1990s using a tactic known as cytoplasmic transfer.
Of 33 couples participating in the precursor to this procedure, 14 successfully became pregnant and carried their babies to term. All were born healthy and remain so according to recent reports.
Working around Opposition
Cytoplasmic and mitochondrial transfer have both been banned in the United States as well as a number of other countries. For this reason, Zhang and his team carried out their procedure in Mexico, where no legislation prohibits embryonic genetic manipulation at present.
This brings about the first of an endless string of hurdles scientists are sure to face moving forward.
Five embryos were created via mitochondrial transfer in this case, but only one developed normally. Similar issues came into play with previous genetic modification strategies. All those countries banning such procedures did so in part due to this factor.
Of course, opposition also brings up the matter of playing God and altering the course of nature.
Those in favor of DNA manipulation argue that the procedure is no different than undergoing lifesaving surgeries, administering chemotherapy to battle cell mutations, or even taking antibiotics to combat infections. One might point out the methods in question are quite a bit more involved than treatments after the fact.
Disputes also arise over the rights of embryos who have no say in the experiments being performed on them. That being said, infants receiving immunizations against common, and sometimes deadly, ailments are likewise unable to voice their opinions on the matter.
It’s worth mentioning that embryos which fail to develop properly are destroyed. Questions also arise regarding potential physical, cognitive, and emotional problems resulting from genetic manipulation.
From Another Perspective
When it comes to editing the very genetic code responsible for making us who we are, opposition is quite heavy. Still, those choosing to help foster these scientific breakthroughs have a very different take on the situation.
Watching a child spend his or her life in the throes of a genetic disorder has a way of altering one’s perspective on the matter.
Losing a child, whether during gestation or after birth, generates a pain indescribable with mere words. For all those having experienced heartaches like these, interfering with nature may not seem like such a bad idea.
Couples unable to conceive due to any number of infertility issues also argue in favor of this type of progress.
Mitochondrial transfer and its counterparts have yet to be perfected despite their current limited success. If scientists are to forge ahead in the realm of DNA manipulation, restrictions will inevitably need to be set and present legislation reversed.
That being said, this procedure holds unlimited potential in combating infertility, genetic disorders, and a variety of other conditions. The medical world could be on the verge of eradicating illnesses long before these diseases have a chance to tighten their grips on humanity.
Whether or not it’s ethical is likely to remain a point of contention, regardless of what the future holds.