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The Gurdon Institute


2019 Ma

Hansong Ma PhD, Wellcome Sir Henry Dale Fellow, member of the Department of Genetics.

Lab website | Europe PMC | PubMed 

Winner Philip Leverhulme Prize 2020 in Biological Sciences

EMBO Young Investigator beginning January 2021



Genetics of mitochondrial DNA in evolution and disease

How are mitochondrial mutations transmitted? In addition to the nuclear genome, all animals have another genome packed inside the mitochondrion called mtDNA. This maternally inherited genome encodes important proteins for energy production. Pathogenic mitochondrial mutations often arise among the thousands of copies of wild-type genomes in each cell, and beyond a certain threshold the genetic defects will manifest as a disease phenotype. Over 50 such mitochondrial diseases have been described in humans. 

Selectivity in the transmission of functional versus pathogenic genomes in somatic cells affects the expression of disease phenotype as we age. Selective transmission in germline cells governs the inheritance of mtDNA mutations from mother to progeny, and in this way its evolution.

I have developed genetic tools for mitochondrial studies in Drosophila, which have a mitochondrial genome that is very similar to humans. By artificially mixing different genomes and following their transmission over generations, my lab uses Drosophila to study inheritance of mtDNA mutations to provide insights into human longevity, fertility and disease.

Selected publications:

• Klucnika A, Ma H (2019) Mapping and editing animal mitochondrial genomes: can we overcome the challenges? Phil Trans Roy Soc B. 375 (1790): DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0187.

• Chiang C-Y, McCartney E, O’Farrell PH & Ma H (2019) A genome-wide screen reveals that reducing mitochondrial DNA polymerase can promote elimination of deleterious mitochondrial mutations. Current Biology 29:1-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.10.060.

• Klucnika A, Ma H (2019) A battle for transmission: the cooperative and selfish animal mitochondrial genomes. Open Biology 9. DOI: 10.1098/rsob.180267.

• Ma H, O'Farrell PH (2016) Selfish drive can trump function when animal mitochondrial genomes compete. Nat Genet 48(7):798-802.

 • Ma H, O'Farrell PH (2015) Selections that isolate recombinant mitochondrial genomes in animals. Elife 4:e07247.

 • Ma H, Xu H, O'Farrell PH (2014) Transmission of mitochondrial mutations and action of purifying selection in Drosophila melanogaster. Nat Genet 46(4):393-397.

Hansong Ma group 2020


Chieh-Yin (Ason) Chiang • Nuria Cortes Silva • Ying (Ivy) Di • Beitong Gao • Jan Jezek • Anna Klucnika • Andy Yu Zhi Li • Eleanor McCartney • Matthew McCormack  Peiqiang Mu • Sumaera Rathore • Ziming Wang

Video: Meet Hansong Ma

Hansong describes her work on mitochondrial DNA, including an animation and inside views of the lab.

Watch on YouTube >