IntroductionOn 1st March Cesagen Cardiff hosted a multi-disciplinary symposium ‘Mitochondria Genomics: Past, Present and Potential Futures’.
The aim of the symposium was to bring together people from across disciplines including social science, anthropology, bioethics, media, science and medicine to explore current state of the art and future implications of mitochondria research.
The event began with an introduction by the director of Cesagen, Professor Ruth Chadwick. Professor Chadwick reflected on the timeliness of this event, in particular, highlighting the development of mitochondria donation and IVF techniques, including maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer. These techniques might eventually enable mothers with mitochondrial disease to have children without the disease but are so far not allowed to be used beyond the laboratory. Unfortunately, extreme fog meant that Professor Doug Turnbull, who is leading the development of these techniques at the Mitochondria Research Group, Newcastle could not land at Cardiff airport, and instead spent most of the day trying to return home from East Midlands airport where his plane had been diverted. However, we were extremely grateful to Professor Jo Poulton, Professor of Mitochondrial Genetics from Oxford who was willing to talk us through Professor Turnbull’s slides after presenting her own work about the causes and impact of mitochondrial disease.
The discussion that followed Professor Poulton’s (and Professor Turnbull’s) talk focussed on the implications of mitochondria donation and this theme continued with the talks that followed. First of all, Geoff Watts, the Chair of the Nuffield Council Working Party on Ethical Issues of Mitochondrial Donation talked about his experience of chairing the working party and Dr Joan Haran, from Cesagen, spoke about media representation of mitochondria donation. Martin Richards, Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Family Research, Cambridge concluded this session by exploring the social significance of the bond between egg donor and child, highlighting how we might imagine a new category for mitochondria donors such as a ‘mito-mum’.
In the afternoon, Professor David Kipling, biogerontologist at Cardiff University School of Medicine and Co-chair of Cardiff Ageing Science and Older People Network explained the mechanisms of ageing, the free radical theory of ageing and the role of mitochondria. Martin Richards, Professor of Archaeogenetics at the University of Huddersfield then highlighted how mitochondria ‘leads the way’ in directing the link between geography, lineage and tracking human populations. Dr Amade M’Charek, from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam concluded the formal presentations by discussing issues of identity and belonging in the naturalised and standardised paradigm of mitochondria genomics.
This interesting and intriguing event was neatly concluded by Angus Clarke, Professor in Clinical Genetics at the Institute of Medical Genetics, Cardiff University School of Medicine who highlighted the breadth and importance of mitochondrial genomic research by reminding us of some of the key themes raised during the day. Many thanks to all those who presented, attended and contributed to the event.
The symposium was held as part of a Cesagen funded project, . This project began in April 2011 and will conclude in September 2012. Recordings of some of the symposium presentations will be made available on this site very shortly, and a special issue of Genomics, Society and Policy will be produced with contributions invited from the symposium attendees.