3 Parent IVF. A Bit Of Common Sense

I’m sure you have all seen the scaremongering headlines, probably from the Daily Mail, about “3 parent IVF” and if you don’t know what you’re talking about, like the Mail, you might be wary of such a weird and ethically troublesome piece of science. But is it that morally unsure?
Firstly, we have to look at exactly what this process involves.

The technique that has been in the news recently is called “pronuclear transfer”, and starts by fertilising a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm using IVF. The nucleus (center of a cell with all the genetic information) of the fertilised egg can then be transferred into an emptied nucleus in another egg in the same way.

The fertilised egg has 98 per cent of its DNA in the nucleus. Half from the mother and half from the father. The remaining 2 per cent is what’s known as mitochondrial DNA – DNA in the cells’ factory that are found outside of the egg’s nucleus, and are inherited solely from the mother.

Mutations in this mitochondrial DNA can cause genetic diseases in children. Some can be incredibly serious and often fatal conditions such as muscular dystrophy. (More information on mitochondrial diseases can be found here.

This technique of IVF, using donor eggs with mutation-free mitochondria, aims to try and eliminate these diseases. It is estimated that this process could save over 100 newborns a year from dying of various diseases.

Sounds great so far right? Where the problems start is when people, who we will refer to as “Daily Mail morons”, read a scary headline and know nothing at all about the process get on their highest of horses and proclaim this to be some sort of genetic tampering abomination. Most likely they will have found a way to liken it to the cliched “wanting perfect children”, or blame it on immigrants.

The Tory MP Nadine Dorries ridiculously claimed on Channel 5’s Wright Stuff program last week, that this process could lead to the “3rd parent” trying to lay claim to the child years later. Now, on the face of it, you might not think it’s that ridiculous, but it is. It really is.

Remember, the mitochondrial DNA accounts for 2% of all the cells DNA. This DNA isn’t responsible for characteristics or eye colour, temperament, whether you go bald at 22,  or anything like that, it’s simply there to supply energy for the cell. Thats it. In total, around 0.1% of a child’s overall DNA comes from mitochondrial DNA.

Zero point one percent. You couldn’t lay claim to a child conceived this way any more than you could lay claim to David Beckhams kids. It’s a farcical claim made my someone who has done no research, spent no time looking into it and just saw some overall drivel in the Mail and regurgitated it. To millions.

This is exactly what’s wrong with the way science is portrayed to the public. In general, people don’t take too much notice of science (despite it being responsible for literally everything in their lives, but that’s another rant). They see some headlines, hear someone talking about something and that’s it. No one does any digging for themselves, and it irritates me.

Take this for example. I’ve read on this technique before, but even if I hadn’t, it takes 5 minutes to Google “3 parent IVF” and read three or four good, easily understandable articles on it. All of which debunk any idea of there being any moral issues with it.

“3 parent IVF” is a bit of a misnomer, as the third person involved isn’t technically or legally a parent, they are simply offering a healthier factory in which to conceive their egg.

I’m not a scientist, I don’t have any vested interest in any areas of research or have any advanced degrees in scientific education, and I could still talk more sense and provide more information than 90% of anyone on a TV panel show or journos in the tabloid media.

It would be absurd to have someone pandering on about complex financial systems, or psychology, or engineering without them being well educated in the subject, yet it happens all the time with the media and science.

People read a newspaper report, which has probably left out some details to stir up some controversy, then they proclaim it like they know what they are talking about.

I actually had a very heated debate about two years ago on this very subject, when it was being trialled on monkeys. They hadn’t read anything on it, just a small article in a newspaper. They then stood there trying to argue how morally wrong it all was and that it was awful that we were even thinking about doing this with people. I of course blew it all out of the water, using some facts and common sense, but without that debate how would they have known any different? They would’ve believed what was there and that’s that.

Education is key. We need better standards of science reporting, The Times has really stepped up it’s efforts and with their Eureka magazine (put in as a free magazine the first Thursday of every month) it is among the best newspapers around for science, along with the Independent.

If you can afford it, I strongly recommend New Scientist magazine, it is a fantastic weekly magazine with news, articles and opinion pieces. It ranges from basic explanations to more complicated, but it’s all easily understandable without sacrificing information.

We need to strive for quality reporting, or we end up with situations like the farcical MMR-Autism shitstorm we had a few years ago, where people actually died through bad, misleading reporting of science.

Pictured: Dangerous reporting

People from the Daily Mail (not that they read this, being too busy writing angry letters to people over immigration, using their fancy Princess Diana stationary set) need to chill the fuck out and actually research something before jumping on the “this is ethically outrageous” bandwagon they, and the media love.

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