Wednesday, March 17, 2010

genetically engineered humans born a decade ago | The world is now populated by dozens of children who were genetically engineered. It still sounds like science fiction, yet it’s true.

In the first known application of germline gene therapy — in which an individual’s genes are changed in a way that can be passed 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 conceive is that their ova contain old mitochondria (if you don’t remember your high school biology class, mitochondria are the part of 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 extensively 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 fetuses had been created.