Researchers in Oregon have announced they were able to create embryos bearing genes from one man and two women, which could theoretically lead to babies born to three genetic parents.
This isn't mere Frankenstein science for the sake of making so-called "designer babies." Early-stage human embryos with genes from three parents some day may keep newborns from inheriting rare diseases carried by maternal genes.
The gene transplant researchers led by Masahito Tachibana of the Oregon Health & Science University produced early-stage human embryos that contained healthy versions of "mitochondrial" DNA, which only comes from a mother.
Defects in those genes can cause diseases involving muscle weakness, brain abnormalities and other ailments that occur in 1,000 to 4,000 births every year nationwide.
The study researchers do not intend to produce children with the engineered embryos and called for further safety study of the technique.
British experiments produced similar results four years ago.
Scientists say the process could guard against passing down certain horrible diseases from parent to child, but detractors raise ethical questions including the spectre of designer babies – the ability of parents to choose a child's sex or the color of a baby's eyes.
There's a one in 5,000 chance that babies will inherit a mitochondrial defective gene, leading to strokes, epilepsy, and many other problems. The new technique, if approved someday for routine use, would allow a woman to give birth to a baby who inherits her nucleus DNA but not her mitochondrial DNA.
A British bioethics group announced this summer that they would consider the technology ethical if it were demonstrated to work safely.
Rita Chappelle, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, told USA Today that any requests to perform human experiments to test the gene-swapping process "would be carefully evaluated" by the agency to see if federal approval is required.
What do you think about the provocative new science? A slippery slope to designer babies or a new hope for the removal of gene defects? Let us know.