Mitochondria are like the batteries of a cell and a treatment for obesity might just involve changing the batteries. (1) Mitochondria make most of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which provides power for all processes in the cell. Mitochondria have their own DNA which coordinates with the DNA in the nucleus of cells to do what they do. All of your mitochondria come from your mother because your father’s DNA contribution is only in the nucleus of cells, whereas your mother also contributes the rest of the cell that grows up to be a baby. The genes in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are very similar to certain bacterial DNAs and the theory is that bacteria formed cooperatively some how with cells billions of years ago.
It has long been known that certain variations in the mtDNA are associated with human diseases including diabetes, heart failure and neurodegenerative disorders like autism.
Scientists have recently been able, using specially inbred mice, to swap some of the mtDNA for a variant mtDNA (called BL/6 NZB) in their egg cells. Mice with these switched mitochondria had longer average life spans, had a greater capacity to regulate insulin, maintain better cholesterol levels, and resist weight gain on a high fat diet. (unadulterated mice get obese on a high fat diet)
This kind of manipulation of mtDNA cannot help us right now but maybe some day we could engineer better human cyborgs. In the meantime further tinkering with the mtDNA may also lead to insights that could be used to help us inferior beings.
1. Chinnery PF, Zeviani M. Mitochondrial matchmaking. N Engl J Med 2016 (November 10);375:1894-6.
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- [email protected] or phone-354-6605.