'Three people, one baby' public consultation begins


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A public consultation has been launched to discuss the ethics of using three people to create one baby.

The technique could be used to prevent debilitating and fatal "mitochondrial" diseases, which are passed down only from mother to child.

However, the resulting baby would contain genetic information from three people - two parents and a donor woman.

Ministers could change the law to make the technique legal after the results of the consultation are known.

About one in 200 children are born with faulty mitochondria - the tiny power stations which provide energy to every cell in the body.

Most show little or no symptoms, but in the severest cases the cells of the body are starved of energy. It can lead to muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and in some cases can be fatal.

Mitochondria are passed on from the mother's egg to the child - the father does not pass on mitochondria through his sperm. The idea to prevent this is to add a healthy woman's mitochondria into the mix.

Two main techniques have been shown to work in the laboratory, by using a donor embryo or a donor egg.

How do you make a baby from three people?
Method one: Embryo repair 1) Two embryos are fertilised with sperm creating an embryo from the intended parents and another from the donors. 2) The pronuclei, which contain genetic information, are removed from both embryos but only the parents' is kept 3) A healthy embryo is created by adding the parents' pronuclei to the donor embryo, which is finally implanted into the womb
Method two: Egg repair Step 1. Eggs from a mother with damaged mitochondria and a donor with healthy mitochondria are collected. Step 2. The majority of the genetic material is removed from both eggs. Step 3. The mother's genetic material is inserted into the donor egg, which can be fertilised by sperm.

However, mitochondria contain their own genes in their own set of DNA. It means any babies produced would contain genetic material from three people. The vast majority would come from the mother and father, but also mitochondrial DNA from the donor woman.

This would be a permanent form of genetic modification, which would be passed down through the generations.

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It has huge potential significance for society because for the first time children would be born with DNA from three people - what has frequently been dubbed 'three parent IVF'. Crucially that genetic alteration to what's known as the germ line would be permanent, handed down from generation to generation”

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It is one of the ethical considerations which will be discussed as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's consultation.

The chair of the organisation, Prof Lisa Jardine, said: "It is genetic modification of the egg - that is uncharted territory. Once we have genetic modification we have to be sure we are damn happy."

She said it was a question of "balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society".

Other ethical issues will also be considered, such as how children born through these techniques feel, when they should be told, the effect on the parents and the status of the donor woman - should she be considered in the same way as an egg donor in IVF?

Mitochondrion Hundreds of mitochondria in every cell provide energy

It is not the first time these issues have been discussed. A report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said the treatment was ethically OK, but the group Human Genetics Alert said the procedure was unnecessary, dangerous and set a precedent for genetically modified designer babies.

The consultation will run until 7 December and the conclusions will be presented to ministers next spring.

Research into the area is legal in the UK, but it cannot be used in patients.

However, treatments in IVF clinics will be years away even if the public and ministers decide the techniques should go ahead. There are still questions around safety which need to be addressed.

One of the pioneers of the methods, Prof Mary Herbert from Newcastle University, said: "We are now undertaking experiments to test the safety and efficacy of the new techniques.

"This work may take three to five years to complete."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    391 thebluetick
    Please show me where in anything I have said that this should not be done or that I disagree with medical advances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Some people compare genetic modification to medical treatment - medical treatment rarely change your DNA, which is how you are coded as a person.
    A medical treatment is designed to fit you; a genetic modification is trying to make you into someone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    @389 I sure people made the same arguements when heart transplants were first discussed!

    The whole of medicine removes Nature from the equation (or at least vastly reduces the impact). If you have an issue with this you need to stop all medical intervention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    @366 'Whizz1967'
    You ask why do we have different blood types?

    There is a definitive answer. I'm B positive. Did a quick search and B+ is most common in Taiwan, Hungary, India, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong.

    My known ancestory is Swedish, Irish, Spanish - thus fab eyebrows!

    Seriously, donate blood and get on the bone marrow list - ethnic minorities I'm talking to you too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    380 Lawless-uk
    I can't disagree with you and each individual case will have equally compelling arguments for. However, looking at the bigger picture, if we remove nature from the equation and effectively take responsibility into our own hands, at some point in future we will be the ones deciding when and how people die. We should stay open to discussing the consequences of what we do today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    @382. Alasdair BM Macleod

    The bible says lots of things that I disagree with (doesn't matter I'm an atheist). I assume you don't pick and choose which bits you follow and find it offensive that I'm wearing leather shoes and a wool suite. Yes it really says I can't.

    Thankfully we live in a country where the laws are meant to be based upon logic and debate and not on religious bigatory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    364 Jerome..

    "What you don`t understand is that the technic discussed in the article is not "genetic interference" to genetically interfere you would have to alter the actual nucleus which is not the case here"


    Chair of the organisation, Prof Lisa Jardine, said: "It is genetic modification of the egg - that is uncharted territory

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    I think that everyone would agree that exhaustive research and testing is necessary before any sort of medicine passes in to common usage.

    However, for some reason, a significant proportion of people assume that geneticists are mad scientists throwing caution to the wind as they inadvertently eradicate humanity through their unchecked tinkering.

    This is simply not the case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    @369 Megan

    For me the difference between the DNA types is not the point here.

    We are talking about cell manipulation. Someone physically removing part of one cell and replacing it with something else.

    The more important point to debate is the cell manipulation itself and not really the material that's being replaced as such.

    The act itself is the part that needs rigourous questioning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    ‘Many famous innovative people are thought to have been autistic, Einstein, Bill Gates, Mozart and more. Autistics Rock!’
    I agree, but I would just like to point out, Autism is chromosomal abnormality during development not a genetic heredity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    @382. Alasdair BM Macleod
    "Trout Mask Replica the process proposed involves creating 2 embryos = 2 babies."

    There are two processes proposed, only the first of these involves creating two embryos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    To 356 Wuuf & 357 Trout Mask Replica - Wuuf God did not create disease and death. It came into a perfect world he had created when mankind sinned against him by disobeying him. But he then provided a way to be saved from death by dieing on a cross for us 2000 years ago. Trout Mask Replica the process proposed involves creating 2 embryos = 2 babies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    @374 'mscraker'
    Thank you. I agree, I could have worded it better. Emotion often gets in the way when posting on subjects close to the heart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Babies born with this condition often suffer hugely and have shortened lives.
    Nature has created this problem, and it's a step forward to be able to help some parents in a meaningful way. If the gene is "bred" out of the line, then the savings in stress, emotion, worry, and ultimately financial savings will surely make it worth it.

    No-one should see their child die for want of a bit of science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.


    Genetic disabilities can also, far more commonly, lead to impaired cognitive ability and/or life expectancy and thus will also have denied the world a great many genii.

    In the case of my son, Mitochondrial Disorder has resulted in Leukodystrophy, a degenerative brain disease, so your argument doesn't hold much sway with me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    To explain this in layman’s terms, what they are suggesting is a bricklayer replacing 1 brick for another.
    What everyone else seems to think is that some mad scientist in not only going to remove the bad brick but redesign this brick to be a super brick but make it out of gingerbread.

    Seriously, you guys are nuts!
    Cut down on the caffeine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.


    I wouldn't be who I am without autism as it affects everything from what I eat and wear to who I am friends with. Autistic people, and people with other disabilities, should have the right to be who they are, not genetically altered to be a more "ideal" person.

    Many famous innovative people are thought to have been autistic, Einstein, Bill Gates, Mozart and more. Autistics Rock!

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    We have our LIVES through TIME!

    MtDNA suggests more than this?

    So why Eradicate it?

    Its like antibiotics then?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    I can´t see the big deal in this. Mitochondria are small bacteria that live in our cells in a symbiosis. Evolution of DNA of mitochondria is very restricted, meaning, we actually all have the same exact mitochondrial DNA (unless one has a diseased copy).

    So it is by no means generating a new individual from 3 adults. The parents are those who contribute the chromosomes, not the mitochondria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    I would only add that certain genetic disabilities that 'society' judges often produce the most intelligent and creative minds beyond that considered 'normal' by those with inferior minds."
    I might word this differently but, yes, good point.


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