It has been all over the news: in Great Britain scientists will be allowed to create “three parent babies” to avoid mitochondrial diseases. This disease is considered a genetic disease and by replacing the “faulty DNA” the disease could be prevented. It sounds great, for this is definitely a nasty disease. But is this kind of messing with DNA the solution? No, it isn’t and even if this would be a way to deal with it, there are much better ways.
Of course messing with DNA causes a lot of ethical problems. Many people are not so impressed with scientists who play God and think they can improve on a perfect design (or billions of years of evolution if you want). And it’s not just religious people who oppose this. Besides there are also loads of practical problems. For the fact that technically you can do something in a lab doesn’t mean it will produce a healthy individual. A baby created this way might not have mitochondrial disease, but it might have other problems that might not show up for a long time. Or it might first show up in future generations. Maybe you think that anything is better than living with such a nasty disease and possibly an early death because of it.
But it’s not that simple. When you look up what mitochondrial disease is it appears that it comes with loads of different symptoms and there doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern of anything. It’s more a diagnosis by exclusion. When no other cause can be found, a test might show up a problem that leads to this diagnosis. It sounds like shaky science to me.
But let’s assume that it is indeed a genetic disease. I couldn’t find when the first patient was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, but it’s most probably a pretty recent thing. The health problems that we now define as genetic diseases were very rare 150 years ago and most of them weren’t even described till the early 1900’s. Genetic mutations simply don’t spread that quickly! You cannot have an epidemic of genetic diseases, but still that’s what we have in our society. The thing is that there is much, much more to genetics than what we are told. Genes aren’t what defines us or our health. The “faulty genes” that are said to cause disease can easily be turned on and off (this is the area of epi-genetics). 100 years ago all these people also had the same “faulty genes”, but they didn’t get sick, because these genes were turned off!
So what turns these genes on? You guess it: it’s lifestyle and environment. Especially food is very important. Getting rid of all the foods that didn’t exist 150 years ago can do miracles for a person. And if that’s not enough an elimination diet will show up what you shouldn’t eat. It’s hard to believe, but many people with “genetic diseases” have been cured that way. But prevention of course is even better, and much easier, than cure.
So instead of messing with DNA these scientists should better find out why “faulty genes” are turned on in so many people. Then they could simply turn them off and genetic diseases would disappear. Nobody would have any objections to that. But it’s not prestigious research and you don’t do it in a lab. And if people get cured the scientists would get unemployed. So that’s plenty of reasons not to listen to nature, but instead going against it. And that’s a very, very bad development.