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‘Three-parent babies’ are ethically permissible, U.S. panel says

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It is ethically permissible to create “three-parent babies” in clinical experiments, as long as certain guidelines are followed, a U.S. panel of experts has concluded.

These babies result from a procedure known as mitochondrial replacement therapy, mitochondrial transfer or three-person IVF.  The technique aims to prevent rare genetic diseases that cripple energy-producing mitochondria from being passed from a mother to her child.

Mitochondrial transfer is already legal in the United Kingdom. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested that a panel convened by the Institute of Medicine investigate whether ethical considerations should prevent clinical studies in the United States.

For the procedure, researchers extract and discard the nucleus of a donor egg containing healthy mitochondria and then insert the nucleus from a mother's egg. Sperm from the father fertilizes the egg, creating an embryo in which the bulk of the genetic information come from the mother and father, but a small amount of DNA comes from the donor’s mitochondria.

In a report issued February 3, and summarized in the journal Science, the IOM panel concludes that it is ethical to conduct the experiments, but recommends limiting the technique to making baby boys. That would prevent “germline modification” of future generations because mitochondria are usually inherited from the mother. The committee also recommends the technique be limited to women with serious mitochondrial diseases, and that regulators should take the mother’s health and the expertise of the scientists into account before approving studies.

The FDA must now decide whether to allow the experiments to move forward. 

Genetics,, Animals

Bedbug genome spills secrets of violence, weird sex

By Helen Thompson 1:30pm, February 2, 2016
Maps of bedbugs’ genetic material reveal clues to their success.

DNA may determine if you’re an early bird or night owl

By Sarah Schwartz 11:36am, February 2, 2016
Morning people are more likely to have certain variations in their DNA, but less likely to have insomnia or sleep apnea.
Genetics,, Science & Society

U.K. first to approve gene editing of human embryos for research

By Tina Hesman Saey 6:53pm, February 1, 2016
The United Kingdom is the first government to approve gene editing in human embryos for research purposes.
Health,, Human Development

WHO declares international emergency for cases linked to Zika virus

By Meghan Rosen 5:05pm, February 1, 2016
The recent spate of birth defects and neurological disorders linked to Zika virus infection constitutes an international public health emergency, the World Health Organization declared February 1.
Animals,, Fungi,, Conservation

Behavior, body size impact bats’ fight against white-nose syndrome

By Chris Samoray 2:31pm, January 29, 2016
Behavioral and physical traits buffer some bats against white-nose syndrome while leaving others vulnerable.

Skin color changes reveal octopus drama

By Helen Thompson 11:25am, January 29, 2016
Shallow-water octopuses use changes in skin color to communicate aggression to their peers, study suggests.
Technology,, Robotics

Machine trumps man in strategy game Go

By Meghan Rosen 1:00pm, January 27, 2016
For the first time, a computer has beat a professional human player in the strategy game Go.
Health,, Human Development,, Neuroscience

Monkeys with human gene show signs of autism

By Laura Sanders 11:00am, January 25, 2016
Genetically altered monkeys may help scientists understand autism.
Animals,, Physiology

Tegu lizards warm up for mating season

By Helen Thompson 2:00pm, January 22, 2016
The heat is on in tegu lizards during mating season, study suggests.

New tree frog genus discovered in India

By Helen Thompson 2:01pm, January 20, 2016
Researchers unveil a newly identified tree frog genus from northeastern India that eats mom’s eggs.
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