Mitochondrial Donation

This story had a lot to it. From an applied science point of view, it’s a really neat way to solve a problem. It’s an easy one to explain to non-scientists as well. I think it’s great that this has been approved, and it’s great to see the UK come out and be the first country in the world to legalise the procedure.

Passing the laws involved a lot of discussion and highlighted some of the broader issues surrounding the introduction of preventative genomics into everyday life. We’ve been told for so long, that our DNA is what makes us- us. So any change to that (however small) can generate a strong, emotive, response from people. This is going to be something tough to overcome. As scientists, we are trained to construct logical arguments, assess facts, and can often take a lot for granted. Anyone who has fallen into the trap of engaging in a science Vs religion debate will know the frustration of the one side failing to understand the other’s point of view. It’s impossible to try argue against facts with faith, or argue against faith with facts. You need to meet these kinds of issues in a way that people can relate to them.

In a case like Mitochondrial DNA, you and I know that it only accounts for 0.054% of a person’s overall DNA and none of the nuclear DNA that determines personal characteristics and traits. But that number is meaningless to someone who is fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of ‘3 person babies’. When you’re dealing with someone with an emotive objection, give them an emotive validation. Tell them about the parents who will be able to start a family without having to worry about bringing a child into the world threatened by a difficult disease. Most people wouldn’t deny a sick kid, a kidney transplant – so why should they deny them a mitochondrial transplant?

On a completely different note – Such amazing medical advances do make me wonder… It’s up for debate whether or not the human species is still evolving or not. As a former evolutionary geneticist, it’s an interesting question to me. We’re doing our best to eliminate selection pressures with modern medicine. But with preventative therapies, we’re effectively cheating the game altogether. We have the potential to play black jack with a rigged deck. To labour this metaphor a little bit more – we’re in a position where we can play the game, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to go bust on the first hit. If we were fixing it so we’re dealt 21 at the start, then we have a real problem… In terms of genomics and preventative medicine, at what point do we cross the line from giving people a fighting chance at life to an advantage? What level of health related risk is acceptable? Interesting points to consider I think!

22,321 thoughts on “Mitochondrial Donation

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