Mitochondrial disease

With the British government about to vote on whether to make it legal to create babies from three parents, we thought you might like to know a bit about why this might be a good idea. One of the main problems that this could help is with parents whose offspring are susceptible to Leigh’s or Mitochondrial Disease. – Deskarati

Mitochondrial disease is a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell. Mitochondria are found in every cell of the human body except red blood cells, and convert the energy of food molecules into the ATP that powers most cell functions.

Mitochondrial diseases are sometimes (about 15% of the time) caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA that affect mitochondrial function. Other causes of mitochondrial disease are mutations in genes of the nuclear DNA, whose gene products are imported into the Mitochondria (Mitochondrial proteins) as well as acquired mitochondrial conditions. Mitochondrial diseases take on unique characteristics both because of the way the diseases are often inherited and because mitochondria are so critical to cell function.

cell dna

Defective mitochondria are passed only from mother to child so scientists in the UK have pioneered therapies that use functioning mitochondria from a donor woman. The fertility technique uses material from the mother, father and a donor woman to prevent deadly diseases. The UK scientists that have led the research hope to offer the procedure next year. Some families have lost up to seven children to “mitochondrial diseases” that leave the body with insufficient energy to function. However, mitochondria have a tiny amount of their own DNA so any resulting child would have genetic information from three people.

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