Three Genetic Parents? How About Seven?

A recent experiment by UK scientists resulted in viable embryos containing genetic material from three people. The basic idea is that a child so conceived would have three parents.

First, the original research had a different purpose. The intent is to replace genetically damaged structures called mitochondria, found in a woman's egg cells, with healthy mitochondria from unrelated eggs.

Their research efforts have apparently created ten viable embryos each containing genetic material from multiple 'parents.' The experiments were performed on embryos left over from fertility treatments. The embryos were destroyed after six days so they could be analyzed.

Here's what scientists have in mind:

[D]octors would first combine the genetic material from one woman's egg and her partner's sperm. The resulting egg would then contain the nuclear DNA from both parents, along with the woman's diseased mitochondria. Scientists would then remove the nuclear DNA from the fertilized egg, leaving the unhealthy mitochondria behind, and transplant it into a second woman's egg, which has been stripped of its own nuclear DNA but retains healthy mitochondria.

Patrick Chinnery, a neurogeneticist on the Newcastle team that performed the experiments, is cautious about the results.

"There are still a number of scientific issues we've got to resolve, in terms of efficiency, and in terms of whether we can do this in eggs rather than in other embryos," Chinnery said.

But how will human beings organize the creation of children with three - or even more - parents? Arranging to have many parents for one offspring can get devilishly complicated; I recommend a nzred.

Science fiction writers are way ahead of the curve on this, conceptually at least. In his sardonic 1949 story Venus and the Seven Sexes, writer William Tenn tells us about a rather complicated arrangement - the seven sexes of the Plookh.

"...I am a representative of the seventh sex - nzred."

"A nzred, huh? What do you do?"

"I coordinate... You see, a mlenb is primarily interested in winning the affections of a likely strob and finding a tkan whom he can love. A tkan merely courts a mlenb and is attracted to a good guur. I am responsible for getting a complete chain of these individuals in operation, a chain of compatibility where perfect amity runs in a complete circle - a chain which will produce offspring of maximum variability. Then, after the matrimonial convention, when the chain is established, each sex begins to secrete in its original germ with the full forty-nine chromosomes. A busy time for the nzredd!

"The nzred... fits himself in at any point in the chain which the exigencies of the situation seem to demand. He may receive the sextuple supergamete from the tkan and transmit the original single gamete to the guur, he may be between the flin and blap, the blap and srob, whatever is required."

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