“Of course mitochondrial DNA transfer is genetic modification and this modification is handed down the generations, “Lord Robert Winston, Britain’s leading fertility doctor, told The Independent.
“It is totally wrong to compare it with a blood transfusion or a transplant and an honest statement might be more sensible and encourage public trust.”
New regulations to allow mitochondrial DNA transfer will now be put before parliament in the autumn following a three month consultation.
If passed, Britain will become the first European country to legalise the process and more than 100 “three-parent” babies could be born in the UK each year.
Under the technique, parents at high risk of having children with severe disabilities such as muscular dystrophy will be offered donor DNA from a “second mother” to fix genetic defects.
Mitochondria act as the ‘power packs’ of cells and Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has likened the process to “changing a faulty battery in a car”.
About one in 6,500 babies are born with a mitochondrial disease each year.
The Department of Health claims that the new technique does not amount to genetic modification.
“There is no universally agreed definition of genetic modification in humans. People who have organ transplants, blood donations or even gene therapy are not generally regarded as being genetically modified,” said a spokesman.
“The government has decided to adopt a working definition for the purpose of taking forward those recommendations.”
However Dr Ted Morrow, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sussex, said it was wrong to suggest that mitochondrial DNA does doing nothing but power cells.
“My impression is the Government is doing all it can to contain and define these kinds of terms in ways that favour mitochondrial replacement being introduced as an uncontroversial therapy.
“They push the idea that mitochondrial DNA does nothing more than regenerate more mitochondria, which are nothing more than cellular batteries and that mitochondria genes don’t encode traits relevant to personal identity and so on.”