JUN 11, 2017 03:39 PM PDT

Switching Organelles to Have a Healthy Baby

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
3 2 133

Floating inside of the cytoplasm are mitochondria, the proverbial "powerhouse of the cell." These organelles also carry DNA, which are packed into circular structures and encode 37 discreet genes.

When damaged or mutated, abnormal mitochondria can cause several health conditions. These involve organs and tissues that consume high levels of energy, such as skeletal muscles, the brain, and the eye. And because the mitochondria are integral component of many biochemical processes, mitochondria dysfunction leads to a variety of metabolic diseases.

To help women with mutated mitochondria to have healthy children, researchers discovered that they could replace the diseased organelle, so to speak. In mitochondria replacement therapy (MRT), doctors use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to fertilize a mother's egg (containing the bad mitochondria) with her partner's sperm. When the embryo is still an undivided cell, doctors remove the nuclei and transfer the embryo's DNA into a donor embryo, which is missing the nucleus.

Through switching organelles, the goal is to end up with a donor embryo (with healthy mitochondria) that has the essential DNA from the IVF procedure. The mother's egg that contains the bad mitochondria is left behind. In theory, this prevents the mother from passing on her mutated mitochondria copies to her offspring. Because the procedure requires an embryo from a healthy donor, it's often called the "three-parent baby" technique. Watch the video to learn more about how MRT works, and whether it's a safe and/or ethical route as genome engineering continues to merge with medicine.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 17, 2018
Videos
JUL 17, 2018
Encouraging Progress on HIV Vaccine
In the quest to find a vaccine against HIV which causes AIDS, most attempts have failed. The HIV epidemic began about 35 years ago and in that time only fi
JUL 19, 2018
Videos
JUL 19, 2018
The Transition to Multicellular Life May Have Been Simple
It may have been relatively easy for complex organisms to form from one-celled microbes, researchers suggest.
JUL 27, 2018
Videos
JUL 27, 2018
Ever Wonder Why the Moon Turns Red During A Lunar Eclipse?
Lunar eclipses can be fun to observe, but have you ever wondered why the Moon turns red during the event? As it turns out, this red Moon phenomenon, also k
JUL 30, 2018
Videos
JUL 30, 2018
Is it Good to Open Your Windows During a Hurricane?
You might’ve heard the idea that opening your windows during a hurricane can reduce the stress on your home’s roof and walls as it’s bein
AUG 02, 2018
Videos
AUG 02, 2018
Which is More Damaging to Your Health, Alcohol or Weed?
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the federal government, making it a challenger for scientists to conduct further studies and gather stat
AUG 11, 2018
Videos
AUG 11, 2018
GMO Crop Ban Rescinded
Genetically modified crops that use neonic pesticides can now be planted in wildlife refuges.
Loading Comments...