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DNA from three parents: Push to legalise controversial gene manipulation in Australia

A genetic engineering technique combining DNA from three parents may soon be allowed in Australia.

Under a proposed law change, mitochondrial donation — where DNA from the eggs of two woman are combined — would be allowed to prevent parents passing on potentially fatal genetic conditions to their children.

There are concerns around the ethics of the practice, but advocates say the process, dubbed by some as ‘three-parent IVF’, is “purely about saving lives”.

The process, which involves replacing faulty mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from another woman, was legalised in the UK in 2016.

Sean Murray, CEO of the MITO Foundation, and a carrier of mitochondrial disease himself, said there is great misunderstanding around what mitochondrial DNA is.

“Mitochondrial DNA is very different to what we think of when we think of DNA,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“Most of us think DNA you get half of mum, half of dad, and that’s true, but there’s this other tiny part of DNA that’s very separate to that, that’s called mitochondrial DNA.”

Altering DNA to prevent mitochondrial disease is different from other genetic engineering techniques.

“The child that is born will still have the chance of the same eye colour, or hair colour, or height, or whatever, as the regular parents, but we’re bringing in healthy mitochondria,” Mr Murray said.

About 60 children per year are born with severe mitochondrial disease, and Mr Murray said the consequences can be devastating, with many dying in childhood.

“Because we’ve got these mitochondria in every cell of our body, just about, they can cause symptoms in any organ at any age and in anybody,” he said.

“I’m 45 and I’m definitely at risk of developing diseases. I’ve seen it affect members of my family. My brother died from mitochondrial disease, my mother died from mitochondrial disease, and not that we knew it at the time, but my grandmother did as well.”

Mr Murray said the safety of the gene editing technique has been proven overseas.

“The legal framework as the same in the UK and they changed the law to permit this technology as a clinical therapy in 2016,” he said.

“The scientists believe that this is safe.

“It’s time that Australians have their fair chance to access this technique so they can have healthy children.”

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Image: Christoph Burgstedt/Science Photo Library