Cells in your body contain packets of mitochondrial DNA (pictured), which convert food and oxygen into energy – and appear to have another role in helping to fight infection. Experiments on mice have shown how that when damaged by a virus attack, these tiny power packs trigger the cell to produce interferon, an anti-viral agent. Scientists were surprised to discover that a similar immune response occurred when damage was caused not by a virus but by ageing of the cell. This points to mitochondrial DNA playing an important role in human ageing, opening up a new avenue of research in this area. These findings may also have implications for mitochondrial DNA transfer – an IVF procedure that the UK is set to legalise as a means of preventing certain inherited diseases, and which will controversially lead to the birth of three-parent babies, possibly in 2016.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.