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MPs have voted in favour of mitochondrial DNA transfer, an IVF technique that prevents deadly genetic diseases being passed from mother to child. The Society of Biology supports the introduction of regulations which will facilitate treatment while carefully monitoring outcomes.

In a free vote in the Commons today, 382 were in favour and 128 against the technique which uses nuclear DNA from one woman and mitochondria (which contain a very small amount of DNA) from another woman, along with DNA from one man.

Mitochondrial DNA transfer, which was developed by British scientists, allows IVF clinics to replace an egg's defective mitochondria with healthy ones from a female donor, to prevent children suffering debilitating conditions such as muscular dystrophy and Leigh’s disease.

The UK is now set to become the first country to introduce laws to allow the technique.

Dr Mark Downs FSB, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said:
“This development is intended to ensure that mothers who carry faulty mitochondria can have healthy children free from the devastating conditions caused by these particular defects. With any new technique, there will be uncertainty. However, taking this into account, the scientific community has made clear its support for the introduction of regulations which will facilitate treatment while carefully monitoring outcomes; we fully endorse this.”

The mitochondria are often referred to as the ‘batteries’ of the cell, as they are responsible for generating cellular energy. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) only contains 37 genes, all of which are thought to be associated only with the production of cellular energy. The nuclear DNA (nDNA) contribution of the two parents contains about 25,000 genes and accounts for the characteristics typically thought of as being familial.

Mutations in the maternally inherited mtDNA, can have serious health consequences if the mitochondria are not able to produce an adequate amount of energy to meet the demands of cells or tissues. Therefore, mitochondrial mutations can have a serious effect on organs that require a lot of energy, like the heart, brain, kidneys, and major muscle groups. There is no cure for diseases that result from mutated mitochondria, and often the symptoms cannot be treated.