Fertility therapy has been long dealing with the hurdles of the genetic malfunctions, with no protocol in place to combat with such genetic disorders. Yet this may now see progress with the birth of a baby boy whose genetic makeup derives from three individuals, his parents and an anonymous female donor.

On 27 September , Dr John Zhang and his team at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City announced their feat on New Scientist, where Zhang successfully gave a Jordanian couple a healthy baby boy with this landmark technique. The mother and father having already lost two children to the genetic disease Leigh Syndrome, carried in the mother’s mitochondrial DNA and passed onto the child.

Although a child genetic makeup is formed from the building blocks given by both the mother and father, the mitochondrial DNA is passed onto the child from the mother alone. This ground-breaking yet controversial technique replaces the mother’s defective mitochondria with those from another woman’s donor egg. This is done by inserting the cell nucleus from the mother’s egg into a donor egg without its own nucleus. The fertilization occurs as usual and the nucleus from the father’s sperm mixes with the mother’s nucleus inside the donor egg. The result from this was that the boy inherited his nuclear DNA from both parents, however the 37 genes encoded by the mitochondrial DNA are from the healthy donor egg.

Currently the child is now 5 months old and for now considered to be healthy, however the technique is still under strong public scrutiny and is entangled with several ethical concerns, like for instance the babies being a product of three biological parents.

Moreover despite the process seemingly removing the mother’s disease-carrying mitochondria from the embryo, there is no guarantee that these mitochondria have become completely absent and may still go on to give rise to the genetic disease in the child later on.

Furthermore, the technique so far is only legal in the UK, with Zhang himself conducting this  breakthrough technique in Mexico where he states “there are no rules”.

Regardless of the promising results, a lot more progress needs to be made before such procedures can come close to passing the international ethical and legal considerations.

– Palwasha Najeeb, Correspondent (Science)

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