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Biotech Science

Ethics Panel Endorses Mitochondrial Therapy, But Says Start With Male Embryos (sciencemag.org) 125

sciencehabit writes: An experimental assisted reproduction technique that could allow some families to avoid having children with certain types of heritable disease should be allowed to go forward in the United States, provided it proceeds slowly and cautiously. That is the conclusion of a report released today from a panel organized by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), which assesses the ethics questions surrounding the controversial technique called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy. More controversially, however, the panel recommended that only altered male embryos should be used to attempt a pregnancy, to limit the possible risks to future generations. (Males can't pass along the mitochondrial DNA that is altered in the procedure.)
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Ethics Panel Endorses Mitochondrial Therapy, But Says Start With Male Embryos

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  • Why is it controversial, exactly?
    Are critics worried about the X-Men? Or are they mad because of religious rigmarole?

    • Re:Controversial? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @04:30PM (#51433829)

      Why is it controversial, exactly?
      Are critics worried about the X-Men? Or are they mad because of religious rigmarole?

      Because they are creating genetically modified human beings. Currently, the technique is being looked at for certain negative conditions, but it has the potential to be used for other purposes, too. The issue of designer babies is a moral question, not a scientific one. And, moral questions are often controversial.

      • Because they are creating genetically modified human beings.

        All humans are the result of genetic modification, usually as a result of a technique called "sex".

        The issue of designer babies is a moral question, not a scientific one.

        Moral decisions should be made by individuals, not governments. As long as the procedure is technically safe (and presumably it is, since it is already legal in Britain), then the government has no business telling individuals how and when they reproduce. Keep your laws off my body.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Genetic modification in humans is not necessarily safe. Human's are complex organisms and we just don't fully understand all the gene interactions. It is one thing to choose to modify your own genes but it is another to want to modify someone else's when there are still so many unknowns. It is why most of the time it is limited to curing disease rather than something like changing eye color or height.
        • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @06:07PM (#51434701) Homepage

          Moral decisions should be made by individuals, not governments.

          So as long as I think a murder is justified...?

        • "Moral decisions should be made by individuals, not governments. "

          What you mean is that genetic choice should be made by individuals ('I want my babies to look like this person...') rather than by governments, in which case it's called eugenics.

          • What you mean is that genetic choice should be made by individuals [..] rather than by governments, in which case it's called eugenics.

            you've obviously not studied the history of eugenics, which was originally precisely an encouragement of individuals to breed more offspring with (it was hoped) good ("eu-") genes ("-genic").

            Look up Francis Galton, the main founder of the movement.

            • When a government espouses a particular type of genome as being the ideal and encourages or forces people to make their genetic choices toward that ideal, it's eugenics. When people make p their own minds about who to mate with, its just genetic choice.

              • You are precisely wrong. You are conflating the fact that the German Nazi government promoted eugenics with the idea that the meaning of "eugenics" changed meaning at that time. Regardless of who chooses to do it or why (or even how), deliberately trying to change breeding habits to people to bring about a desired change in genetics is eugenics.

                (Incidentally, at that time eugenics was very popular with other governments too. this was the era when the US and UK governments forcibly sterilised thousands of p

                • I don't see how this differs in any way from what I said. Yes, eugenics was such a worldwide fad early in the twentieth century, like carbon warming today, that Nazism sneaked up on the world because it was just a more authoritarian, ethnospecific version of policies that most other countries already had at the time.

                  Or are you arguing that people should have the right to choose, as individuals, who they mate with?

                  • You seemed to be trying to make a point the eugenics is only eugenics if it's carried out by government-level groups, and if it's carried out by individuals, then it's something else. That is not how the term was defined when it was invented by Galton, and since he invented the term and publicised it in the scientific literature, he got to define what it meant.

                    People do, at the moment, in most of the world, have some degree of choice over who they mate with and whether they have children. Of course, neithe

        • You seem to think I am opposed to this. I did not take a stand one way or the other. I just answered the OP's rhetorical question.

        • "Moral decisions should be made by individuals, not governments."

          By the time any individual is presented with these choices they've already been filtered by many much larger institutions, including in this case government, pharmaceutical corporations, university research labs, various levels of scientists, (and maybe you should include pressure brought by the media/Slashdot), so I wouldn't single out government influence for wrath as if everything else is individual choice.

          It isn't a couple in the back of a

        • by hink ( 89192 )
          Oh yes, the British government is ALWAYS correct. (SARCASM)

          BTW, they only "allowed" it starting in February of 2015.

          Moral decisions that only affect YOU can be made by you. Moral decisions that affect others should at least be brought up with the involved parties. Moral decisions that can affect a species should be looked at by at least a representative sample of the population. In non-direct democracies (most of the civilized world), that kind of job usually is done by the existing government.

      • by guises ( 2423402 )
        Well that's one part of it, but this is also about preventing people from having children in a case where they might pass along something harmful. Nowadays, ever since the Nazis really, folks get all up in arms about that sort of thing. Go figure.
      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        The issue of designer babies is a moral question, not a scientific one

        It isn't just that. Its also quite possible to introduce artificial genetic diseases that are not fully understood for a few generations, and by then the change will have "gone wild" in the gene pool.

        Most of us software engineers wouldn't consider it wise to make a code change to a huge poorly-understood program of the "lets tweak this and see what happens" variety and then release it to production without any prior testing. They are just forbidding the genetic programming equivalent of that.

    • "What could possibly go wrong"

      Has nothing to do with religion. Has everything to do with Scientists ignoring Darwinism and trying to fix nature's "mistakes" without understanding they may not be mistakes after all, but Genetic Mutations for the survival of the fittest. Some mutations are bad/good, until they are proven otherwise. Like sickle cell trait is bad, but has genetic strengths against Malaria. Remove the trait, you remove the benefit the trait provides, making the species weaker.

      • Lots of things we do subvert evolution such as treating genetic diseases so people could live normally, social welfare, fertility treatments etc... Either we step the plate with eugenics or figure out how to fix peoples genes before we turn in to blubbering piles of meat ;-)
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Has everything to do with Scientists ignoring Darwinism and trying to fix nature's "mistakes" without understanding they may not be mistakes after all, but Genetic Mutations for the survival of the fittest.

        That doesn't make sense and sounds a lot like the kind of interpretation of Darwinism that you would expect a hundred years ago.

      • Has everything to do with Scientists ignoring Darwinism

        You could make the same argument against smallpox vaccination. Or indoor plumbing.

      • Re:Controversial? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by St.Creed ( 853824 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @05:19PM (#51434315)

        I see you haven't looked into mitochondrial disease at all.

        I knew a couple that just lost their child to it. The baby took 9 months to die, losing all bodily functions and slowly withering away, unable to obtain energy for the cells from food. A colleague of my wife lost their baby in two months to a comparable but slightly different genetic failmode, which caused the skin to fall off her body. She died in horrible agony without eyes, nose and cheeks, and black, rotting skin all over.

        There are pretty compelling reasons to want to do something about this, and it's really no coincidence that the mitochondrial diseases are first in line for an attempt at a cure.

        Even then, sickle cell trait may have genetic strengths against malaria, but it's a stopgap measure at best and we have much better treatments nowadays - if you can afford to get a genetic cure, you can certainly afford profylaxis and medication against malaria. This goes for many other "genetic strengths" that are mostly crippling disabilities, as well. So to me, your statement is merely a variation on the rather worn out theme that "man should not meddle with Nature".

        • You're over-reacting a bit. I'd say he meant to always be aware of the law of unintended consequences when you're buggering about with shit you only know a bit about.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          As someone who suffers from a mitochondrial problem (not as bad as the ones you describe, fortunately) I'm hopeful that eventually we will find a way to fix these problems in adults too. Recently there was some promising research that involved rebuilding the immune system, by destroying it with chemotherapy and then allowing it to recover. When it rebuilds it returns to an un-broken state, which might suggest a way to fix mitochondria too.

    • Re:Controversial? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @04:42PM (#51433947)

      There's a very small but non-zero chance of screwing up - introducing some unintended damage to the DNA which will go initially unnoticed, until the subject's muscles start to turn to gloop twenty years later. At least this way any screwups are contained to one individual.

    • Would you want to come in second place to a GM human? Once we start messing with humans, creating artificiality better humans and regular old normal humans, One group will need to oppress the other. Either Super humans will be banned from all Competition with regular humans, or regular Humans will naturally lose all competitions.

      • Would you want to come in second place to a GM human? Once we start messing with humans, creating artificiality better humans and regular old normal humans, One group will need to oppress the other. Either Super humans will be banned from all Competition with regular humans, or regular Humans will naturally lose all competitions.

        I'd love to be a GM human. All those years of playing Ice Hockey have taken their toll. The problem is that if I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing.

        Evolution is far far from perfect. Nothing wrong with tighening up a few parameters here and there.

        • >Evolution is far far from perfect. Nothing wrong with tighening up a few parameters here and there.

          That's because you're mistaking evolution as something that happens to a species. It is much more accurate to say that evolution is something species do to each other and one of it's most IMPORTANT outcomes is to ensure that no species is ever perfect.
          Perfection is more guaranteed extinction than any flaw could be.

          The perfect predator goes extinct, because none of his prey survives to produce a next genera

          • Perfection is more guaranteed extinction than any flaw could be.

            Your reply is nice, but I'm trying hard to parse it, because it doesn't make sense to me.

            So what you are saying is that if we tweak the calcium phosphate in humans to be a little more durable, humanity will go extinct?

            So tell me, let's say you have a genetic flaw like Huntingdon's You fear that gentic manipulation to avoid all of the fun you'll be going through as it kills you is bad? If not, what sort of genetic modification do you have in mind that will force extinction on humans?

            • >Your reply is nice, but I'm trying hard to parse it, because it doesn't make sense to me.

              Genetic flaws happen, they occur to a rare few individuals, who rarely procreate, and they have limited impact on the species as whole.
              Perfection rapidly becomes dominant, and then prevents the forces of competition from keeping population growth in check - result the entire species goes extinct.

              >So what you are saying is that if we tweak the calcium phosphate in humans to be a little more durable, humanity will

              • >Your reply is nice, but I'm trying hard to parse it, because it doesn't make sense to me.

                Genetic flaws happen, they occur to a rare few individuals, who rarely procreate, and they have limited impact on the species as whole.

                We aren't eve talking about the same thing - But you are still wrong.

                Perfection rapidly becomes dominant, and then prevents the forces of competition from keeping population growth in check - result the entire species goes extinct.

                ANd here is why you are wrong. There is no such thing as perfection. If you look at the vagus nerve for example, in humans and mammals it is a mess. It was adapted from a gill structure, and does loops and turns in teh body to get to the throat. It's one of the many defects we h

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, I think this is one of those cases where there's an umbrella rule that serve purpose, but which might also have sensible exceptions. In this case the rule is that selecting embryo sex is something that ought to be discouraged.

      There are lots of reasons to discourage selecting offspring sex, some of which a reasonable person might disagree with. For example some would object that it's playing God. Others might say say that it's wrong to value persons of one sex more than others. I don't find those pa

      • Personally, I think that allowing for sex selection would be a self correcting problem. In China, with the one child rule, the ratios were thrown off, this led to a lot of males with no chances of finding a wife. So the sexism of the previous generation is bred out of the society as people see the error of choosing to have primarily male offspring. Perhaps this could lead to a reduction of populations in China and the Middle east where sexism prevails as the way.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Eventually perhaps.

          However more immediately you'll get a situation where the demand for wives leads to kidnapping of girls which leads to having a female child being even less desirable as she'd probably get kidnapped and raped.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Oh, it is self-correcting. It's just that the process of correction isn't so nice for the people who have to live through it.

        • by Livius ( 318358 )

          People will see the error of other people's choices. Not much chance any of them will see their own.

    • I think they mean its controversial to limit this procedure to male embryos. Probably thinking this may be (politically rather than biologically) sexist. Nevertheless, as the summary correctly states, mitochondrial DNA is passed on via the female branch of a family. Therefore, if they fuck up anything, the issue stops with the male embryo in question as he won't pass on the potentially borked DNA to his offspring. Makes sense to me, that.
    • Why is it controversial, exactly?
      Are critics worried about the X-Men? Or are they mad because of religious rigmarole?

      Depends on whether you're a Christian fundamentalist wacko or an anti-GMO wacko.

      But all fears aside, this seems to be a way of beta-testing a mitochondrial fix in male embryos before making the same fix on the female side, who would then be able to pass the patch on in the human germline.

    • It gives the scientists a chance to beta-test a new modification. That way, they can determine how effective it is, without it accidentally spreading throughout the population.
  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @04:31PM (#51433835)

    Males can't pass along the mitochondrial DNA that is altered in the procedure

    Well, they can, it's just that sperm mitochondria usually get swamped out by egg mitochondria.

    • My understanding is that all (not most) mitochondria in sperm are lost when the tail is lost. Is that not correct?

      My understanding could be wrong. Let's call it a teaching moment.
      • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @05:13PM (#51434251)

        You are correct. Sperm have all of their mitochondria located by the flagellum, not spread throughout the cytoplasm of the main body, which makes sense due to the fact that the real energy expenditure in a sperm cell is going to be movement.

        The mitochondria and flagellum are left behind as a distinct unit when the main body merges with the egg. So, there are no male mitochondria in the resulting fertilized egg. There could be some sort of odd condition that allows something like the sperm mitochondria to make it inside the egg, but if that happens it is not the rule, and probably means that something is wrong.

        That is why you will only inherit mitochondria via the female line, which has had an interesting ability to aid in tracing human migrations through history.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          False:

          https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2716-mitochondria-can-be-inherited-from-both-parents
          http://www.nature.com/hdy/journal/v93/n4/full/6800572a.html
          http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v352/n6332/abs/352255a0.html

  • They want to do their eugenics biological experimentation on men only. It's a feminazi plot. Tuskegee all over again.

  • It is obvious that the female run government is just trying to replace us men with better genetic specimens.

    If these women weren't so shallow this would never be happening.

  • by gawdonblue ( 996454 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2016 @05:34PM (#51434453)

    Since TFS didn't explain what "mitochondria" are, I had to look them up myself and found a documentary about them [imdb.com]. One scientist explains them as:

    Mitochondria are a microscopic lifeforms that reside within all living cells. And we are symbions with them. Without the mitochondrians life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us telling us the will of the Force.

    I hope this helps.

  • I would just like to say the summary seemed good to me; like most /. posters I did NOT read the article. Tim S.
  • Mitochondrial DNA (actually more like mRNA) only passes to children from the mother's DNA contribution. So if a male has it altered, they can't pass it on to kids.

    That said, it's not quite as straightforward as you might think. Chromosomal abnormalities could, theoretically, allow the sequences to pass from fathers, but most or all of the maternal mitochondrial sequences would have to not transcribe and some bizarre stuff would have to happen.

    If you were going to Mars, the exposure to radiation, or some Fan

  • If the eggs of a human female are all produced before the female is even born, won't they already contain all the original mitochondria they will ever contain, and further altering of mitochondria elsewhere in the woman's body will do absolutely nothing to the "future generations?" I don't remember any process by which mitochondria are passed through the cell membrane.

    Unless TFA already addressed that. Not like I actually read it.

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