[Sci-Tech] Q. What are mitochondrial diseases. How does mitochondrial replacement therapy help? Mention the controversy.

Answer : Mitochondrial diseases result from failures of the mitochondria, specialized compartments present in every cell of the body except red blood cells. Mitochondria are responsible for creating
more than 90% of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. When they fail, less and less energy is generated within the cell. Cell injury and even cell death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems begin to fail, and the life of the person in whom this is happening is severely compromised. The disease primarily affects children, but adult onset is becoming more and more common.

Diseases of the mitochondria appear to cause the most damage to cells of the brain, heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidney and the endocrine and respiratory systems.

It can cause catastrophic organ failure in their children, as well as severe epilepsy or conditions such as muscular dystrophy. Children often die in an agony that can't be alleviated.

Scientists developed a technique that lets mothers with this genetic fault bear healthy children. Sometimes called "three-parent embryos", the method replaces the faulty mitochondria in the mother's egg with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, to combine with the father's sperm. Mitochondrial DNA consists of just 37 genes, which perform a quite separate function from the 23,000 genes that determine our characteristics: the baby's nature will be drawn from its parents, the donor providing only "battery" support.

But tampering with any human DNA is illegal and requires new regulations to be agreed . Inevitably it has led to warnings of "genetically modified humans" and "GM babies", with questions raised about whether children should know they have a "third parent" so they can contact the mitochondrial donor mother.

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