Three-parent babies a possibility after British government backs new IVF technique - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 28 June

Three-parent babies a possibility after British government backs new IVF technique - Today’s news, tomorrow’s lesson - 28 June

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 28 June

Three-parent babies a possibility after British government backs new IVF technique

Traditionally, a family unit with two parents has been the norm and in the last few decades, single-parent families have become more common around the world as divorce rates rocket.

But, thanks to a decision announced by the UK government yesterday, a new, and slightly improbable phenomenon could be on the way: the three-parent family.

Britain looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, through a pioneering medical technique.

IVF – a process of procreation in which a woman’s egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body – generally involves just two biological parents. But new procedures have been developed that can include genetic material from a third party.

The process starts when genetic material from the two traditional “parents” is injected into a donor egg provided by another woman, which has had its nucleus removed. The embryo resulting from the process carries the majority of DNA from its two original parents, but mitochondrial DNA – around 0.2 per cent of the total – would come from the egg donor.

The procedure, known as mitochondrial transfer, has been created to prevent the faulty genetic material of people suffering from mitochondrial conditions being passed on to their offspring. It is hoped that it could end the recurrence of muscle weakness, blindness and heart failure.

It is envisaged that up to between five and 10 British couples a year would benefit from the treatment, which could be offered within two years.

Earlier this year, a public consultation carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) found there was “general support” for the idea, and that there was no evidence that the process was unsafe.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said the procedure could bring “hope to many families”, adding: “It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”

However critics have opposed the move to meddle with human genetic inheritance. Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, described the proposals as “unnecessary and unsafe”. He warned the move “will eventually lead to a eugenic designer-baby market” involving other forms of genetic modification.

Professor Davies has also stressed that donors would almost certainly remain anonymous and not be traceable.


  • What is DNA?
  • What does Dr David King mean when he talks about a "designer-baby market"?
  • Why do you think that some people are against the use of IVF? Make a list of the possible arguments.
  • What are the benefits to this type of research? In your opinion, do the benefits outweigh the arguments against?

Related resources

Beginner’s genetics

  • Explain DNA sequences and how we come to look like we do with this PowerPoint introduction to genetics.

Graphic genes

  • Colourful cartoon graphics and a quiz help students get to grips with genetic theory in this science lesson.

Writing DNA

  • Get students speaking the language of genetics with this presentation on transcription and translation.

IVF decision making

  • Consider the facts from all angles with this IVF lesson, which explores the decision making process through a case-study prioritising activity.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

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President Barack Obama yesterday opened up what is likely to be a bruising political battle, unveiling his country's most ambitious proposals to cut carbon dioxide emissions ever.

It is a blatant, very public contravention of China's one-child policy, which is nonetheless being greeted with boundless official enthusiasm. Haizi, a rare giant panda living in the southwest of China, has given birth to twins.

Acrid air from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, has engulfed the city-state of Singapore. The problem has also triggered a row between the two countries over who is responsible.

In the news archive index