Welcoming news for patients diagnosed with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy has come from researchers who have developed a new way to destroy mutated DNA within mitochondria.
Mitochondria converts fuel from food into a form of energy that cells can use. In addition to this they also promote enzymes which in humans are the only cell components other than the nucleus that houses genes. Any form of mutation can lead to muscle weakness and a plethora of health issues including heart disease and for sufferers of LHON, blindness.The scientists have manufactured a tool from studying bacteria that specifically infects plant life to develop the new approach to eliminate the mutated DNA. The Miami Miller School have explored proteins called transcription activator-like (TAL) effectors. These are commonly found only in certain types of plant-infecting bacteria that allow the bacteria to use plant DNA to multiply and spread infection.
The researchers have been using methods where TAL effectors can be fused with DNA-breaking proteins called nucleases which can then be used to add or remove specific genes or correct gene mutations. Their report marks the first time TALENs have been used to edit mitochondrial genes.