Thursday, September 08, 2005

Think of the guilt

But you got her the same flowers you got me on Mother's Day--British authorities have given permission for doctors at the Newcastle University to transfer genetic material created when an egg and sperm fuse into a second woman’s egg. In other words, the embryo would have two mothers. The procedure is designed to see if it is possible to prevent mothers from passing mitochondrial diseases to their offspring. Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy in the cells and come with their own DNA, inherited down the female line. If that DNA contains errors, there is no cure for the diseases it can produce, which includes a form of multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. Researchers think that if they can take the good DNA from an egg and insert it into an egg with good mitochondrial DNA, they can eliminate the chances of mitochondrial diseases in the embryo. In 2001, researchers at St. Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey tried the experiment in reverse—injecting the mitochondrial DNA from one woman into the egg of a woman with the disease—and have produced 15 healthy children, free of their mothers’ disease. In the Newcastle experiment, the resulting egg will not be allowed to develop into a baby; they are just testing the theory. (And how, you ask, would such a baby turn out if they did permit it to develop? Since mitochondrial DNA does not contain the genetic material that gives us our individuality, any baby would resemble it’s biological mother and father).

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