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Why mitochondrial donation is not about making ‘designer babies’

A cell with the nucleus and mitochondria labelled (Image credit: Wellcome Images)

A cell with the nucleus and mitochondria labelled (Image credit: Wellcome Images)

The UK Government is considering legalising a specialised form of IVF called mitochondrial donation, which aims to prevent potentially fatal mitochondrial disease. As Parliament prepares to debate the issue on Monday 1 September, Jane Bunce tries to clear up confusion over the science behind the technique ― and explains why it will not lead to creation of “designer babies”.

What is mitochondrial disease?

An estimated one in 6,500 children will develop a serious mitochondrial condition, which is passed down from mother to child. There is no cure and symptoms include seizures, strokes, blindness, deafness, heart and liver failure ― and in serious cases, death at a young age.

The diseases are due to faults in a child’s mitochondria, which are often described as the “battery packs” of our cells. These mitochondria are small structures in human cells that convert the food we eat into energy we need to stay alive. If these mitochondria don’t work correctly, cells don’t have enough energy and the tissues or organs they make up do not function properly. Read more

Blood lust and the mosquito

Today is World Mosquito Day, marking the 1897 discovery by the British doctor, researcher and military officer Sir Ronald Ross that the female Anopheles mosquito spreads malaria. Here our senior press officer Claire Hastings looks at what makes this ‘little fly’ one of the most dangerous organisms that has ever lived.

No one likes mosquitoes. They bite. They’re difficult to swat. To make matters worse, they inevitably appear on the rare pleasant days when we’re trying to enjoy the Great British Summer Time. Luckily, mild to moderate irritation is the worst outcome we can expect from a mosquito bite in the UK. But in the tropics a single mosquito bite can result in anything from an itchy ankle or mild fever to organ failure and death.

Tools of the trade

Despite their blood-sucking reputation, mosquitoes primarily feed on nectar from plants. Only the female mosquito needs additional protein in her diet to allow her eggs to develop; and the blood of animals is her favourite source.

Without this blood lust, female mosquitoes wouldn’t need to bite. Over the years she has evolved a few tricks that make her rather good at drinking our blood. Stealth is key ― if it hurt then we’d know about it, and the mosquito wouldn’t have time to find the perfect place to drink. Read more

Faith and hope: leading malaria research in Africa

Faith Osier

Faith Osier (Image copyright: Duncan Willetts Photography)

It was announced yesterday that Dr Faith Osier, a Kenya-based recipient of an MRC/DFID African Research Leader award and a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has won the 2014 Royal Society Pfizer Prize. The prize recognises African scientists making an innovative contribution to biological sciences. We asked her to reflect on what this international recognition means.

Any milestone in your career ― like winning this prize, or the fellowship I received last year from the MRC and the Department for International Development ― makes you stand back and take stock.

For me it’s a cause for celebration and appreciation. It makes me appreciate the community that transformed a little girl growing up in Kenya into an international award-winning scientist. From my parents and grandparents, who had the foresight to send all their girls, as well as boys, to school; to all my teachers, educators and mentors; and the wider community that shaped me ― here’s a toast to you! Read more