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a mouse

Hidden effects on metabolism and ageing may make it harder to rid future generations of devastating inherited diseases using a controversial “three parent baby” treatment, new research suggests.

Scientists working with mice found that an early mismatch of DNA had disturbing consequences later in life, including accelerated ageing.

Whether humans might respond the same way is not yet known. But the research raises new concerns about attempts to eliminate inherited disease by replacing defective mitochondrial DNA.

Last year Parliament took the bold step of approving mitochondrial replacement therapy, which would allow DNA in human embryos to be altered in a way that affects future generations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is separate from the genetic material in the cell nucleus that determines physical characteristics such as facial features, eye colour, and most of the body’s biology.

Housed in rod-like bodies in the cell called mitochondria, it accounts for 0.1% of human DNA, but has important metabolic functions linked to the conversion of food to energy.

Inherited flaws in mtDNA, which is only passed from mothers to their children, result in mitochondrial diseases... see more