January 06, 2011
Single Mitochondrion Extracted From Cell

Mitochondria, organelles within cells that break down sugar to produce energy molecules for the rest of the cell, each have their own DNA for a subset of their genes. Some neuromuscular disorders are caused by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. A research team has now managed to develop tools that enable them to extract individual mitochondria from a cell.

Medical researchers who crave a means of exploring the genetic culprits behind a host of neuromuscular disorders may have just had their wish granted by a team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where scientists have performed surgery on single cells to extract and examine their mitochondria.

Why is this useful? Well, if mutations are causing problems a natural question is whether all mtDNA copies in each cell have the same mutation. If each one can be isolated and separately sequenced then their sequences can be compared. Do all mtDNA in a cell share the same sequence? Do all cells have the same mtDNA sequence?

Lasers and a tiny pipette did the trick.

The research team, which also includes scientists from Gettysburg College, has potentially solved this problem by realizing that several devices and techniques can be used together to extract a single mitochondrion from a cell that possesses a genetic mutation. They employed a method** previously used to extract single chromosomes from isolated rice cells where a laser pulse makes an incision in a cell's outer membrane. Another laser is used as a "tweezer" to isolate a mitochondrion, which then can be extracted by a tiny pipette whose tip is less than a micrometer wide.

What would also be useful: the ability to deliver mitochondria into a cell. For example, suppose a woman has a mitochondrial mutation that is problematic and yet she wants to make babies. It would be handy to be able to replace the mitochondria in one of her eggs with mitochondria that do not have the mutation.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 06 10:11 PM  Biotech Manipulations

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