Scientists from the Oregon Health and Sciences University have developed a technique in Rhesus macaques that may one day prevent the inheritance of disease-related mitochondrial gene mutations from mothers to their children (Tachibana M et al. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature08368 [published online August 26, 2009]).
Mutations in mitochondrial DNA occur at a much higher rate than mutations in nuclear DNA and such mutations may frequently be inherited because offspring obtain their mitochondrial DNA almost exclusively from their mother. Other mutated mitochondrial genes may not be inherited but rather emerge during an individual's lifetime. More than 1500 mutations in mitochondrial DNA are associated with serious disease in humans, including myopathies, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, cancer, and infertility. There are no cures for such disorders, only treatments that slow the progression of disease, noted Masahito Tachibana, MD, PhD, the first author of the report, in a press conference.