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Eggs with two moms still need a sperm August 29, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in genetics, Health, heredity, medical.
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Monkey DNA Study May Eliminate Some Inherited Disease – ABC News

Lab Produces Monkeys with 2 Mothers

Same facts. Two headlines that sound completely different. These two news stories cover the same exact research, yet it is presented in two different ways. Quite frankly, ABC News got it right. The Washington Post decided to make the story sensationalist. Ahh, the need to draw readers. I don’t usually throw in commentary but today is different. I feel the need to set the record, ahem, straight.

So what are both of these stories really about? It’s so simple that I am afraid you might fall asleep.

Some basic science. Hopefully, everyone reading this knows that it takes an egg and a sperm to make a baby (at least for mammals, let’s just stay there ok?).

Each of us gets half of our chromosomes from our mother and half from our father. But there is more DNA in an egg. Wait, what? Hear me out. Almost all cells contain what is called a mitochondria. Mitochondria are little organelles that have their own DNA. This DNA is also expressed in humans and can carry defective genes. Some 150 diseases are known to be caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA.

So why did I say almost all cells? Sperm do not contain mitochondria. Don’t ask me why. I wasn’t the sperm designer. Eggs do contain mitochondria. Follow me now, so – who did you get your mitochondrial DNA from? That’s right. Your mom. Not your dad. If you got that wrong, go back to the start of the article.

You probably already know that couples use egg donors. This isn’t very different. Here is how the technology works. Take an egg from a woman who does not carry a mutation for the disease. Take out the nucleus – that is where all the chromosomes are. The mitochondria are still in the egg because they are not inside the nucleus. This is the donor.

Now take an egg from the woman who wants to be a mom. Put the nucleus inside the donor egg. The end result is an egg with all of the mom’s chromosomes but lacking the mom’s defective mitochondrial DNA. Now fertilize the egg. Yea, that’s right. Men, breathe a sigh of relief. Your sperm are still essential. Lesbians, sorry for the let down. Can’t make a baby out of two eggs without a sperm. Maybe someday. But not today.

Could there be risks? Sure. There is certainly more research that needs to be done. As a scientist, I would be most concerned about rejection of the implanted egg as the body has a way of recognizing foreign cells and producing a rejection response. This is why people with transplanted organs must take immunosuppressants. Otherwise, antibodies attack the organ and it fails.

Will this lead to designer babies? I always love this question. Design for what? There are NO changes to the genes themselves in this technology. It’s just a clever way of eliminating inherited diseases that are encoded on the mitochondrial DNA.

Will the woman who donated her mitochondria want parental custody of the child? I don’t know. But it’s not new. Couples who use surrogacy face this issue now. Personally, I’m not that attached to my mitochondria. Except for what they do for me.

For people who think we are creating Frankenstein or doing research for the sake of doing something weird, that is just plain wrong. Grant money is hard to come by. We have a federal system of giving grants for research because our government recognizes that advances in science can make advances in healthcare. What makes more sense, both ethically and financially? Allow a child to be born with a serious defective illness, that will then cause not only suffering but thousands in healthcare costs, or prevent it in the first place? This research IS about helping people.

For people who say “let mother nature take her course” or “stop interfering with what God planned”, let’s hear your opinion when it is your loved one. If you believe in letting mother nature take her course, don’t wear eye glasses, don’t take medications, don’t have any surgery. No vaccinations, no preventive health care. Stop taking medicine for your diabetes, stop taking medication for your heart condition. No more vitamins. Eat food,exercise and let the rest just happen. No intervention whatsoever. Not willing to take your statements that far? I thought so.

So don’t condemn researchers who are truly trying to help people. Maybe your God put them here to do this very research. If you have ever lived through a life or death situation and a truly gifted doctor helped you, you know what I mean. I could name several doctors that I feel are angels on earth.




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