The DNA in our cells consists of not only the well-known 46 chromosomes currently receiving such avid attention from specialists in sequencing technology, but also a large number of copies of a relatively tiny, circular DNA molecule inside the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondrion. Among other things, mitochondria perform the chemistry of breathing – they extract energy from nutrients by exquisitely regulated chemical reactions that consume oxygen and create CO2. This vital function depends on the 13 proteins encoded by the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), as well as on hundreds of proteins that are encoded in our more famous genome and imported across the mitochondrial surface after construction in the body of the cell. The mtDNA accumulates mutant, non-functional variants far faster than our main genome, so 20 years ago scientists began looking at the idea of putting copies of the 13 genes of interest into the nucleus after making modifications that would cause them to be processed by the same protein import" machinery that processes the mitochondrion’s many other proteins, thus making the mtDNA itself superfluous and mutations in it harmless. I will discuss this concept in detail in my talk.
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