His Fertility Advance Draws Ire ; Scientist's Research on Mitochondria Shakes Up Field of Genetics

By Tavernise, Sabrina | International New York Times, March 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

His Fertility Advance Draws Ire ; Scientist's Research on Mitochondria Shakes Up Field of Genetics


Tavernise, Sabrina, International New York Times


The scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov's procedures have shaken up the field of genetics, bringing promise to would-be parents while drawing the ire of bioethicists and the scrutiny of regulators.

To most people, the word "mitochondria" is only dimly familiar, the answer to a test question in some bygone high-school biology class. But to Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the mysterious power producers inside every human cell are a lifelong obsession.

"My colleagues, they say I'm a 'mitochondriac,' that I only see this one thing," he said recently in his modest, clutter-free office at Oregon Health and Science University. He smiled. "Maybe they are right."

Dr. Mitalipov, 52, has shaken the field of genetics by perfecting a version of the world's tiniest surgery: removing the nucleus from a human egg and placing it into another. In doing so, this Soviet- born scientist has drawn the ire of bioethicists and the scrutiny of federal regulators.

The procedure is intended to help women conceive children without passing on genetic defects in their cellular mitochondria. Such mutations are rare, but they can cause severe problems, including neurological damage, heart failure and blindness. About one in 4,000 babies in the United States is born with an inherited mitochondrial disease; there is no treatment, and few live into adulthood.

Mitochondria have their own sets of genes, inherited solely from mothers, and women who carry mitochondrial mutations are understandably eager to not pass them to their children. Dr. Mitalipov's procedure would allow these women to bear children by placing the nucleus from the mother's egg into a donor egg whose nucleus has been removed. The defective mitochondria, which float outside the nucleus in the egg's cytoplasm, are left behind.

"It was a major breakthrough," said Douglas C. Wallace, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "He's an exceptionally talented person."

But the resulting baby would carry genetic material from three parents -- the mother, the host egg's donor and the father -- an outcome that ethicists have deplored.

That specter drew critics from all over the country to a hotel in suburban Maryland late last month, where Dr. Mitalipov tried to persuade a panel of experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration that the procedure, which he has pioneered in monkeys, was ready to test in people.

Some told the officials that the technique could introduce new genetic mutations into the human gene pool. Others warned that it could be used later for something ethically murkier -- perhaps, said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, "to engineer children with specific character traits."

Back in his office, Dr. Mitalipov waved off those warnings. Mitochondrial DNA comprises just 37 genes, which direct the production of enzymes and molecules that the cell needs for energy, he noted. They have nothing to do with traits like eye and hair color, which are encoded in the nucleus.

"There are always people trying to stir things up," said Dr. Mitalipov, an American citizen who grew up in what is now Kazakhstan. "Many of them made their careers by criticizing me."

The United States is not the only country weighing mitochondrial replacement. In Britain, the government has issued draft regulations that would govern clinical trials in people. If accepted into law by Parliament, such trials, which are how banned, would be allowed to go forward, although regulators would have to license any clinical application.

Dr. Mitalipov's fixation on mitochondria began in graduate school in Russia in the 1990s. After graduating from an agricultural institute, he began work on his doctoral thesis at the Research Center of Medical Genetics, a prestigious state-funded institution in Moscow. He focused on embryonic stem cells, which can be grown in the laboratory and turned into any type of cell in the body. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

His Fertility Advance Draws Ire ; Scientist's Research on Mitochondria Shakes Up Field of Genetics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.