The results of the consultation will help inform a decision by the government on whether to legalise the technique as early as next year – potentially making Britain the first country in the world to hold human trials into the treatment, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The IVF-based technique is designed to avoid serious mitochondrial diseases inherited on the maternal side, such as muscular dystrophy, by replacing some of the mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from the so-called “third parent”.
One in 200 children are born each year with a form of disease in their mitochondrial DNA, the structures within cells that convert energy from food into a form that the body can use.
Many of those children have mild to no symptoms, and may never even have the disease diagnosed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which is overseeing the consultation, said in a statement.
Others can have severe, or even life-shortening, symptoms such as muscular weakness or heart disease. Up to one in 6,500 people born in Britain each year suffer severe symptoms.
Scientists are developing a technique to remove some of the mitochondrial DNA of the mother and replace it with DNA from the “third parent” to create a healthy embryo.
All of a human’s visible characteristics are encoded in DNA found in the cell nucleus, so any child born using the technique under consideration will only bear the features of two parents.
The technique is currently lawful in a laboratory but the embryos cannot be used in treatment, the HFEA said, calling the treatment “uncharted territory”.
“Any child born following mitochondria replacement would share DNA with three people, albeit a tiny amount with the donor,” the organisation said in a statement.
“These changes would affect the germ line, meaning the donor’s mitochondrial DNA would be passed on to future generations.
Chairman Lisa Jardine said: “We find ourselves in uncharted territory, balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society.”
Jardine called the decision one of “enormous public interest”.
It furthers the debate on “designer babies” and the morality of engineering embryos which was first fuelled by the original forays into IVF treatment.
There are also fears over how the “third parent” would affect the child’s sense of identity, and what rights both the child and the third parent would have.
The consultation will run until December 7.