The earthshaking news appeared in the medical journal 'Human Reproduction' under the impenetrable headline: Mitochondria in Human Offspring Derived
From Ooplasmic Transplantation." The media put the story in heavy rotation for one day, then forgot about it. We all forgot about it.
But the fact remains that the world is now populated by dozens of children who were genetically engineered. It still sounds like science fiction, yet
In the first known application of germline gene therapy - in which an individual's genes are changed in a way that can be passed on to offspring -
doctors at a reproductive facility in New Jersey announced in March 2001 that nearly 30 healthy babies had been born with DNA from THREE people: dad,
mom, and a second woman. Fifteen were the product of the fertility clinic, with the other fifteen or so coming from elsewhere.
The doctors believe that one cause for failure of women to concieve is that their ova contain old mitochondria (mitochondria are the part of the
cells that provides energy). These sluggish eggs fail to attach to the uterine wall when fertilized. In order to soup them up, scientists injected
them with mitochondria from a younger woman. Since mitochondria contain DNA, the kids have the genetic material of all three parties. The DNA from the
'other woman' can even be passed down along the female line.
The big problem is that no one knows what effects this will have on the children or their progeny. In fact, this substitution of mitochondria hasn't
been studied exstensively on animals, never mind homo sapiens. The doctors reported that the kids are healthy, but they neglected to mention something
crucial. Although the fertility clinic's technique resulted in fifteen babies, a total of seventeen had been created. One of them had been aborted,
and the other miscarried. Why? Both of them had a rare genetic disorder, Turner syndrome, which only strikes females. Ordinarily, just one in 2,500
females is born with this condition, in which one of the Y chromosomes is incomplete or totally missing. Yet two out of these seventeen fetuses had
If we assume that nine of the fetuses were female (about 50 percent), then two of the nine female fetuses had this rare condition.
Dr. Joseph Cummin, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Western Ontario, says that no further information about these 30 children has
appeared in the medical literature or the media. As far as additional children born with two mommies and one daddy, Cummin says that a report out of
Norway in 2003 indicated ooplasmic transfer has been used to correct mitochondrial disease. He opines: "It seems that the transplants are still going
on, but very, very quietly in a regulatory vacuum perhaps."