British scientists claim the creation of the first human embryo from three parents; one man and two women. This, they say could pave the way for the treatment of genetic diseases.
Researchers from UK's Newcastle University used 10 embryos which were unsuitable for in vitro fertilization (IVF). They replaced faulty mitochondria cells from the mother with undamaged cells from a female donor.
The procedure worked like this. After a day, each embryo was emptied of its pronuclei. These are structures that contain the sperm and egg . These both are still separate at this stage. These pronuclei were inserted into an emptied egg from a second woman with healthy mitochondria.
In this way, the scientists made embryos which contained genetic material from the original parents but had healthy mitochondria from the donor woman.
The research though disclosed last week in parliament's upper House of Lords has not yet been published officially in scientific journals.
The embryos remained viable for five days and the transplant on one of them was termed a success.
Mitochondria are known to play a vital role in the body's energy supply. Any damage to them results in around 50 diseases including serious neuro-muscular diseases, liver failure, blindness, deafness or strokes.
"The research aims to tackle and prevent a group of relatively uncommon but really severe diseases which affect the nervous system and muscles," says Professor Patrick Chinnery, a Newcastle University neurogenetic expert.
"We believe from this work, and work we have done on other animals that in principle we could develop this technique and offer treatment in the foreseeable future that will give families some hope of avoiding passing these diseases to their children", he added.
In five to 10 years' time, transplanting "good" mitochondria could be done within days of a routine IVF, Chinnery gives.
Scientists vouch that the baby would only inherit the mother and father's characteristics. This being because the transplanted mitochondria from the donor would not have any effect on the child's personality or appearance.
Meanwhile Josephine Quintavelle, of the pro-life group Comment on Reproductive Ethics was quoted : "We should not be messing around with the building blocks of life.
"To experiment on a human child in this way is absolutely unforgivable."