Babies born from three parents will be subject to a new set of laws and regulations recently developed in the United Kingdom. The new rules, the first of their kind in the world, state that only two of the three adults involved in the process will be considered legal parents of the offspring.

Fetuses can now be conceived using genetic material from three people - a mother, father, and a second woman, who serves as a donor of a vital cellular component. The process, currently illegal throughout the world, could be legalized for the first time in the UK, under the new regulations.

Opponents of the development of human babies from three adults are speaking out against the possible change, calling allowing the practice a "slippery slope."

Mitochondria, the "energy centers" of cells, float in cytoplasm surrounding the nucleus of the structure. These power stations can only be inherited by a child from his or her mother. Mitochondrial diseases can greatly reduce the amount of energy generated by the organelle, often leading to death. Some families have been known to lose as many as seven children to this class of diseases. Healthy mitochondria can be implanted into cells, where they start to power the structure. Genetic code from the mitochondrial donor is carried into the developing zygote, where it is incorporated into the developing fetus.

"Mitochondrial malfunction has been recognised as the significant cause of a number of serious multi-organ diseases," a scientific study on the technique reported.

Fertility clinics wishing to offer the service must be licensed by the government under the new regulations. Adults wishing to conceive a child must also show a significant genetic risk of disease or disability. The woman donating an egg to be harvested for mitochondria would not be considered a parent under the new regulations, and would be granted no legal privileges over the child. People born from three parents would be given no legal right to learn the identity of their third donor.

The technique was pioneered by researchers in Newcastle, and the first of the procedures will be carried out in that city. The new regulations would likely keep such conceptions down to just 10 zygotes each year.

"I'm delighted that it's being moved forward to the next stage. It's a long process but it's great news. We want to apply for a licence next year and hope to do it [the procedure] in 2015," Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University, said.

Regulations will remain in draft form until Parliament votes on the rules, and they are approved by ministers. Each of these steps is expected to be completed before May 2015, when elections will be held in the United Kingdom.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 are detailed on the Web site of the United Kingdom government. 

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