Monday, November 5, 2012

New method to avoid mitochondrial disorders

A recent paper in Nature describes a new approach to avoiding inherited mitochondrial disorders.

Although identified as "germline gene therapy," in the title of the paper the method is a lot like cloning. The method calls for transferring a healthy nucleus out of an egg with mutant mitochondria, then transferring that nucleus to a healthy donor egg.

In this technique, scientists are not making a genetic copy of an individual as an cloning — but the technique is very similar. The whole idea of this is an interesting one to bring up in an A&P course when discussing the topic of mitochondrial inheritance. It not only emphasizes and clarifies the central idea of mitochondrial inheritance, it's also a good way to connect students to "what's going on right now" in the world of science. 

Among the links below I have included an article from Science News that does a great job of summarizing the new research and pointing out some of the ethical concerns that the method poses.

The article also contains a sidebar listing some of the mitochondrial diseases that might be avoided using the technique. That sidebar complements the coverage of mitochondrial inheritance found in my textbooks. 

Check out this video that demonstrates how the method is carried out in the lab.  You can use this video in your course!

Want to know more?
  • Cloning-like method targets mitochondrial diseases: providing healthy ‘power plants’ in donor eggs appears feasible in humans
    • Tina Hesman Saey Science News Web edition: October 24, 2012 Print edition: November 17, 2012; Vol.182 #10 (p. 5)
    • A great feature article that summarizes the discovery in plain English.  Might be the best place to point your students if they want more information.
  • Towards germline gene therapy of inherited mitochondrial diseases. 
    • M. Tachibana et al. Nature. Published online 24 Oct 2012 doi:10.1038/nature11647
    • Abstract of original journal article describing the method. Includes images.

Related articles
  • Embryo transfer technique could prevent maternally inherited diseases | Body & Brain | Science News
  • Mitochondrial DNA replacement successful in Rhesus monkeys | Genes & Cells | Science News

Related textbook content
  • The Human Body in Health and Disease 5th ed. p. 45, 672, A-13 
Here's a related image you can use in your course:

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