In a New York Times blog, Karen Weintraub discussed 13-year-old Alana Saarinen having three biological parents.
Sharon and Paul Saarinen provided the egg and sperm, and another woman contributed genes to Alana’s mitochondria — tiny power plants fueling cells.
“Mitochondria are minute organelles inside living cells, floating apart from the nucleus in the cytoplasm,” Weintraub wrote. “While most of the cell’s DNA lies in the nucleus, each mitochondrion contains its own small set of 37 genes, inherited solely from mothers.”
The genes governing mitochondria production can be defective, which mothers can pass to children.
“Mitochondrial diseases are rare, but can be devastating and incurable,” Weintraub wrote.
The mitochondria fertilization permitted Alana’s parents to have their own genetic child without passing on Sharon’s abnormalities.
Sharon said her daughter, smart and athletic, has never been sick with anything worse than the flu.
Obviously, having three biological parents raises questions. Could there be unforeseen consequences, including in future generations?
Is it unethical to knowingly have children with abnormalities if the defects can be prevented at conception?
Does it open up a world of parents choosing desired characteristics in children? If children are healthier and happier, is it wrong?
Although a relatively minor defect, I was born with a severely deviated septum (the membrane separating the nostrils).
In 2012 I had my fourth septum surgery. This time a Dallas doctor grafted part of a rib to rebuild it — the first surgery that actually helped (although my ribcage complained for months).
If doctors could have engineered a normal septum at birth, and saved me the pain and expense of four surgeries, breathing, sinus and other complications requiring numerous doctor visits, I would have approved.
Preventing abnormalities in babies through genetic intervention is probably inevitable.
Isn’t any kind of medical procedure messing with nature? Whether it is before or after birth may be splitting hairs — or genes.
Contact Wendel Sloan at