It is a generally acknowledged fact that in order for humans to successfully procreate, two different genetic contributors are required to ensure the inheritability of certain genomic traits. These necessary genetic contributions from two ‘parents’ or contributors can occur in multiple; ways both natural or through ‘assisted reproductive technology’ (ART) which includes In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). IVF is the process whereby the female’s egg is extracted, along with a sperm sample from the male contributor. The harvesting of the eggs – a minor surgical procedure, occurs post hormone treatments in which the female’s egg production is stimulated to encourage the production of as many eggs as possible for harvesting to increase the chances of successful eventual impregnation. The eggs are then manually inseminated in a petri dish and implanted into the uterus once embryos have formed which is when the fertilisation of the eggs has been deemed successful. For many people who are unable to conceive naturally due to multiple medical reasons leading to infertility, IVF has become a viable, although costly alternative solution.
Most recently in the development of assisted reproductive technology, two new experimental procedures have come to the fore, namely: the ‘three-parent’ technique/procedure which utilises mitochondrial replacement technology, and In Vitro Gametogenesis (IVG). The ‘three parent’ procedure involves the replacement of a ‘small piece’ of faulty DNA in the mother’s egg with the healthy DNA from a second female donor. The process was designed in order to eradicate the risk of mitochondrial-related diseases in infants that are inherited through the parent’s genetic make-up. Mitochondrial defaults can cause diseases that compromise the child’s quality of life as they tend to get progressively worse throughout the childhood years, and can prove to be fatal in certain instances.
Another technique that involves genetic modification, is CRISPR/Cas9 (pronounced ‘crisper’), which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat and involves the accurate DNA editing in embryos. It is a relatively cheap technique which allows biological geneticists to target specific DNA strands and alter them accordingly. However “Editing the genomes of embryos is much easier in principle” and there is still a long way to go for this particular process.
IVG, on the other hand, is the process of “convert[ing] adult human cells—taken perhaps from the inside of a cheek or from a piece of skin on the arm—into artificial gametes, lab-made eggs and sperm, that could be combined to create an embryo and then be implanted into a womb” (Wired, 2018). This particular process is a reproductive revelation as it means that not only those who are reproductively challenged will be able to utilise this method, but this could result in the creation of different kinds of families, including single-parents who could theoretically conceive their own wholly biological children or, same-sex couples who both contribute to their child’s genetic makeup.
The reproductive revolution is well underway with the eradication of infertility and genetic diseases in sight, however with comprehensive genetic editing on the horizon – with great power comes great responsibility, and we may have a not-so-distant future full of designer babies in more way than one.