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Prof Mike Berridge awarded HRC funding to develop novel technology

14 May 2013

Senior Malaghan Institute cancer researcher Professor Mike Berridge has been awarded $150,000 from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to develop technology that will allow scientists to manipulate the genomes of mitochondria. If successful, this research will significantly advance our understanding of the involvement of mitochondria in disease.

We all need energy to survive. Most of this energy is generated from the food we eat in specialised compartments of our cells called mitochondria.

Mitochondria contain their own genomes, consisting of 37 genes. Not surprisingly, any disruption to these cellular powerhouses as a result of mutations to their DNA can have serious consequences.

“Defective energy production for growth, brain function and movement contributes to numerous health problems,” says Prof Berridge. “At least 200 human diseases are reported to be due to mitochondrial gene mutations.”

Understanding the involvement of mitochondrial gene mutations in disease is difficult because there are currently no tools available to manipulate mitochondrial DNA in cells.

“Current genetic tools cannot be applied to mitochondrial genes,” says Prof Berridge. “Developing tools to genetically manipulate mitochondrial genes will open new doors that will enable us to investigate their role in human disease.”

Prof Berridge and Malaghan Institute Research Fellow Dr James Baty will use the two-year HRC Explorer Grant to develop new techniques to explore mitochondrial genome involvement in complex diseases like cancer and neuromuscular disorders.

“Our aim is to develop technology that will enable the replacement of mitochondrial genomes in cells with custom-designed synthetic genomes,” says Prof Berridge.

“We will collaborate with scientists at the Venter Institute in the USA to build novel mitochondrial genomes that contain traceable markers so we can track their movement and function.”

“If successful, this new technology will enable us to introduce any sequence change into the mitochondrial genome in cells. This will transform mitochondrial genetics and significantly advance our understanding of the role of mitochondrial mutations in disease.”