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Hum Mol Genet. 2006 Jan 1;15(1):143-54. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

Natural competence of mammalian mitochondria allows the molecular investigation of mitochondrial gene expression.

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Mitochondrial Research Group, Institutes of Neuroscience, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.


Respiration, a fundamental process in mammalian cells, requires two genomes, those of the nucleus and the mitochondrion (mtDNA). Mutations of mtDNA are being increasingly recognized in disease and may play an important role in the ageing process. Accepting the vital role of mtDNA gene products, our limited knowledge concerning the details of mitochondrial gene expression is surprising. This is, in part, due to our inability to transfect mitochondria and to manipulate their genome. There have been claims of successful DNA import into isolated organelles, but most reports lacked evidence of expression and no method has furthered our understanding of gene expression. Here, we report that mammalian mitochondria possess a natural competence for DNA import. Using five functional assays, we show imported DNA can act as templates for DNA synthesis or promoter-driven transcription, with the resultant polycistronic RNA being processed (5' and 3') and excised mt-tRNA matured. Exploiting this natural competence will allow us to explore mitochondrial gene expression in organello and provides the potential for mitochondrial transfection in vivo.

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