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Embryo transfer technique could prevent maternally inherited diseases

New technique transplants healthy nuclear DNA of cells carrying mutated mitochondria

Researchers have developed a technique that could help prevent a number of incurable genetic diseases that affect an estimated one in 6,000 people.

The technique targets diseases stemming from mutations in the DNA of energy-producing organelles, called mitochondria, which are akin to cellular batteries. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can lead to many different human diseases, including diabetes, deafness and diseases that affect the nervous system, heart and muscles.

Mitochondria are the only organelles in animal cells that have their own genetic material — a small, circular chromosome containing 37 genes — distinct from the DNA in the nucleus. While nuclear DNA comes from both the mother and the father, mitochondrial DNA — whether healthy or mutated — is inherited only from the mother.

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