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Genetically-Modified Babies -- The Answer to Infertility or Cause for Concern?

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Last month it was revealed that scientists have created the world's first genetically-engineered human beings. (1) According to reports, after some trial and error in the laboratory, 30 healthy and successfully genetically-engineered (GE) babies have been born in the United States.

So far, scientists have run a genetic analysis on two of the infants. Tests have confirmed that these babies have inherited the DNA from three adults -- two women and one man. Besides the ethical limits that genetically-engineered babies push, there are at least one or two fatal flaws wrapped up in the development of our first GE babies.

Unhealthy Mitochondria Can Cause Infertility

It turns out that the parents of the GE babies were born to women and men who were unable to conceive on their own.

Professor Jacques Cohen and his colleagues diagnosed at least two of the mothers as infertile. Professor Cohen attributes their infertility to defects in small cellular structures called mitochondria. Mitochondria are cellular workhorses, and they generate much of the body's energy. When the mitochondria in our cells begin to wane in numbers or when they begin to malfunction, a spectrum of diseases related to aging and degeneration can result. This includes infertility. (2)(3)

Professor Cohen found that the defective mitochondria were located in the egg cells within the ovaries of both women. To remedy the problem, Professor Cohen harvested healthy eggs from female donors. He then took a fine needle and removed some of the internal material from the healthy egg cell, including the mitochondria. This was injected into the eggs of the women wanting to conceive.

Because mitochondria contain genetic information, the babies that were born to these women now each carry the DNA of two women rather than one.

Diet And Lifestyle Damage Mitochondria

Just like the ovaries in women, the testes are the reproductive epicenter in men. An interesting study highlighted the importance of oxidative stress and bacterial endotoxin. It was found that both are able to damage testicular mitochondria. (4)

Oxidative stress involves an accumulation of high-energy troublemakers, which are called free radicals. Free radicals can trigger an immune system response and lead to the break down of tissue. Because of this, oxidative stress is the biochemical ground on which the inflammatory process is built. (5) This is why health care practitioners place so much emphasis on foods that are rich in antioxidants.

Endotoxins or lipopolysaccharides (LPSs) give structural support to certain bacteria. They also generate a strong immune system response. (6) While a great deal of research has linked endotoxin with chronic disease, it is important to remember that endotoxins are bacteria-related. (7) This means that the gut, which houses most of the bacteria in the body, must become "leaky" or permeable in order for endotoxins to become a problem and generate an inflammatory response. Leaky gut is commonly a result of dietary choices. (8)

Many women and men in the United States struggle with infertility. While the cause of infertility still eludes much of the medical profession, studies like the one above point to diet or lifestyle as the real culprit. (4)

Defects in mitochondria are a symptom, not a cause.

If GMOs Area a Cause for Concern, Should We Ever Genetically Engineer a Human Being?

A genetically-modified organism (GMO) is something that was developed in a laboratory setting. When creating a GMO, the genetic material from one species is forced into the DNA of an unrelated plant or animal.

If the research behind GM food has taught us anything, it is that a lot of unforeseen problems can emerge once we begin tinkering with genetics.

We are most familiar with GMOs in agriculture. Farmers will use genetically-modified seed so that their crops will be able to tolerate toxic herbicides or to manufacture their own insecticide.

In the United States, there is a big push to get GMOs out of the marketplace and out of our diet.
This is because it is believed that GM foods contribute to the development of many common health disorders, such as:

- Premature aging (9)
- Reproductive disorders (10)
- Immune imbalance (11)
- Gastrointestinal problems (12)(13)(14)
- Organ damage (15)
- Cancer (16)

What, if any, are the dangers of producing GM babies? While many question the ethical integrity of Professor Cohen's research, others champion him as a scientist on the cutting edge of reproductive technology.

It is still too soon to know if genetically-modified children are simply a little too sci-fi or if potential health hazards really exist. However, if GM food is any indication of the dangers of GM humans, there is reason to worry.

It is important to keep in mind that the success of Professor Cohen's work has little to do with infertility. Infertility, like many chronic diseases that currently plague the American landscape, is a condition of modern times. (17)

Before even touching the genetic material of another organism or human, it may be a good idea to consider our overall health first. When we take small steps to nourish the body, heal the gut, and maintain balance within our inner ecosystem, we safeguard the body's ability to heal and regenerate. (18) (19)

REFERENCES:

1. M Hanlon. World's First GM Babies Born. Daily Mail. 2012 June 29. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-43767/Worlds-GM-babies-born.html

2. A Hamdy. Mitochondrial dysfunction induced impairment of spermatogenesis in LPS-treated rats: Modulatory role of lycopene. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2012 Feb; 677 (1 - 3): 31 - 38.

3. XH Ou, et al. Maternal insulin resistance causes oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in mouse oocytes. Hum Reprod. 2012 Jul;27(7):2130-45. Epub 2012 May 3.

4. SC Sikka. Relative Impact of Oxidative Stress on Male Reproductive Function. Current Medicinal Chemistry. 2001 Jun; 8 (7): 851 - 862 (12).

5. EM Conner, et al. Inflammation, free radicals, and antioxidants. Nutrition. 1996 Apr; 12 (4): 274 - 277.

6. C Raetz, et al. Lipopolysaccharide Endotoxins Annu. Rev. Biochem. 2002; 71: 635 - 700.

7. I Stewart I, et al. Cyanobacterial lipopolysaccharides and human health - a review. Environ Health. 2006; 5: 7.

8. A Parlesak, et al. Increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules and endotoxemia in patients with chronic alcohol abuse in different stages of alcohol-induced liver disease. Journal of Hepatology. 2000 May; 32 (5): 742 - 747.

9. D Cirnatu, et al. Multiple organ histopathological changes in broiler chickens fed on genetically modified organism. Rom J Morphol Embryol. 2011; 52 (1 Suppl): 475 - 480.

10. W Zhang, et al. Do genetically modified crops affect animal reproduction? A review of the ongoing debate. Animal. 2011; 5: 1048 - 1059.

11. H Aldemir, et al. Murine models for evaluating the allergenicity of novel proteins and foods. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2009; 54 (3 SUPPL.)

12. GE Séralini, et al. How subchronic and chronic health effects can be neglected for GMOs, pesticides or chemicals. International Journal of Biological Sciences. 2009. 5: 438 - 443.

13. SWB Ewen, et al. Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. The Lancet. 16 October 1999; 354 (9187): 1353 - 1354.

14. A Rizzi, et al. The Stability and Degradation of Dietary DNA in the Gastrointestinal Tract of Mammals: Implications for Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Biosafety of GMOs. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2012; 52 (2): 142 - 161

15. A Kilic, et al. A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2008; 46 (3): 1164 - 1170.

16. A Dona, et al. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Feb; 49 (2): 164 - 175.

17. KD Kochanek, et al. Annual summary of vital statistics: 2009. Pediatrics. 2012 Feb; 129 (2): 338 - 348. Epub 2012 Jan 30.

18. RJ Bradley, et al. Subfertility and gastrointestinal disease: 'unexplained' is often undiagnosed. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2004 Feb; 59 (2): 108 - 117.

19. M Simren, et al. Intestinal microbiota in functional bowel disorders: a Rome foundation report. Gut. 2012 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print]

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