London: Britain has become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of human embryos from the DNA of three people, a controversial technique aimed at preventing the passing on of deadly genetic diseases from mothers to children.
The House of Lords- the upper house of the British Parliament- voted 280 votes to 48 yesterday to approve changes to the invitro-fertilisation (IVF) law allowing fertility clinics to carry out mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) donation.
The bill was approved earlier this month by the House of Commons and clinics can apply for licences to use the technique from later this year.
Babies conceived via this IVF technique would have biological material from three different people – a mother, father and a female donor.
It is aimed at preventing incurable genetic diseases from being passed on to child from mother, and is expected to help thousands of people a year.
"Families can see that the technology is there to help them and are keen to take it up, they have noted the conclusions of the expert panel," Health minister Lord Howe told the House.
"It would be cruel and perverse in my opinion, to deny them that opportunity for any longer than absolutely necessary."
However, the technique has sparked fierce ethical debate with senior Church figures calling for the procedure to be blocked. Catholic and Anglican Churches believe the idea was not safe or ethical.
Opponents warn that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a "slippery slope" towards designer babies.
Mitochondria are the tiny compartments inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into usable energy.
But genetic defects in the mitochondria mean the body has insufficient energy to keep the heart beating or the brain functioning.
The structures are passed down only from the mother and have their own DNA, although it does not alter traits including appearance or personality.
The technique, developed in Newcastle, uses a modified version of the IVF to combine the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman with DNA of the two parents.
It results in babies with 0.1 per cent of their DNA from the second woman and is a permanent change that would echo down through the generations.
Experts believe that the use of mDNA from a second woman could potentially help around 2,500 women in Britain at risk of passing on harmful mDNA mutations.