Three-parent IVF and Mitochondrial Diseases

June 12, 2013
The report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics was produced in 2012

The report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics was produced in 2012

In the past year, two major reports have been published concerning the ethics of “three-parent IVF”, in which a donated egg would be used to overcome disease arising from the small amount of genetic material found within mitochondria, the energy factories of the cell.

The first report Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders: an ethical review was produced by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (June 2012) – see summary of key findings.

In March 2013 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority published their Advice to Government on Mitochondria replacement.

Both reports were largely in favour of the development. For examples of arguments against the technique see, for example, this post by the Christian Medical Fellowship.

A short animated video on the topic has been produced by second year students at the University of Leicester.


Epigenetics and ethics

April 12, 2013

It is a well established truth that not all of our genes are switched on in all of our cells all of the time. A fundamental role in the control of gene expression is played by transcription factors encoded within the DNA itself. In addition to this, however, there is now increasing recognition of the importance of an additional layer of genetic modification over and above the sequence of A,C,G&T letters in genome.

The epigenetics teaching resources have been developed by Lyndsey Wright as part of the public engagement with science component of her PhD (funded by the BBSRC)

The epigenetics teaching resources have been developed by Lyndsey Wright during the public engagement with science component of her PhD (funded by the BBSRC)

This “epigenetic” regulation can be influenced by environmental factors and hence questions about the ethical significance of epigenetics are emerging. Two different resources for looking at these bioethical dimension of epigenetics have recently been launched.

Firstly, PhD student Lyndsey Wright has taken the lead in the developed a series of resources on epigenetics and ethics which can be used with A-level students and undergraduates.

Four case studies are included on:

The resource, which is part of the wider Virtual Genetics Education Centre, includes teachers’ notes, student worksheets and PowerPoint presentations as well as links to further reading.

The second new resource is a video on the science and ethics of epigenetics.

The video includes consideration of Jesus and his (fictional) twin Joshua

The video includes consideration of Jesus and his (fictional) twin Joshua

This film was made by second year undergraduates at Leicester as an assessed piece of work. The video includes interviews with a number of scientists who are researching aspects of epigenetics, including the role of genetic modification in altering the expression of genes in cancerous cells.