California – Researchers at the Salk Institute made use of specially designed molecular scissors to edit out bits of mitochondria in the DNA. The tests have been successfully carried out on mice, leaving healthy DNA intact. The research aims at stopping the genetic transfer of diseases in embryos. However, this does bring up the questions of ethical practices and scientific challenges.
Mitochondria is found in every cell and are essentially the areas from where the cell gains energy for various functions. They are also known to have their DNA, which is passed genetically from mothers to their children. This DNA, however, does not affect features like appearances. It creates a problem if the inherited DNA is defective. The result could be a permanent illness, like blindness.
The report about the tests and results is published in “Cell”, a scientific journal. It points out that the tests were carried out on two mice with different Mitochondria DNA. The mice were essentially embryos, but the scientists were able to identify the defective DNA and get rid of it. The results were as expected, healthy off-springs.
The report also states that further tests have been carried out with human mtDNA, which was inserted into mouse eggs. The scientists are now aiming to advance their studies, by conducting tests on discarded human embryos.
The only other existing alternative to this treatment is the mitochondrial transfer therapy, which has recently been started in the UK. However, the method in question would prove to be simpler and can prove to be more effective.
Dr. Marita Pohlschmidt, from charity Muscular Dystrophy said, “We welcome this exciting new technique, which could benefit thousands of women worldwide, who risk passing on mitochondrial diseases to their children.”
However, Prof. Frances Flinter, at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital warned, “The biggest question to address will be the possibility that DNA cutting enzymes may disrupt adjacent genes that are important leading to unintended adverse consequences.”
These are just two of the many views, which scientists around the world are expressing and reflects how divided the scientific world is on the progress.