Letters: Genetic Experiments And Hopes For Saving Voices

Audie Cornish and Melissa Block read letters from listeners about genetic experiments and the tenuous hopes for voice-banking.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally this hour: Your letters. We heard from Aaron Berger, a high school biology teacher in Minneapolis. He listened closely to our conversation this week about mitochondrial DNA. A debate is raging over whether women who want to have children but have errors in their DNA should be allowed to get a healthy transplant.

Berger wrote to add something he did not hear on our air: Mitochondria are the organelles that allow our cells to release energy from the nutrients in our food. Mitochondrial disorders lead to serious health problems or death, and mitochondrial DNA does not affect the expression of genes for appearance, intelligence, eye color or sex. The use of donor mitochondria is more like an organ transplant than it is like a baby receiving sperm from dad, an egg from mom, a chin from Jay Leno.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We also heard from some of you in response to our story about voice banking. We told you about a program in Seattle that allows patients suffering from diseases such as ALS to record their voices to use later when they can no longer talk on their own. Here's our reporter, Gabriel Spitzer, and the subject of his story, Carl Moore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GABRIEL SPITZER, BYLINE: Many of Carl's banked messages are practical.

CARL MOORE: I feel tired.

SPITZER: Many are funny.

MOORE: You know what, your driving sucks. So I can still be a backseat driver.

SPITZER: And some are both.

MOORE: Hey, my butt itches. Would you give it a bit of a scratch?

SPITZER: Carl's kind of snarky. Some of his messages can't even be played on the radio. It's part of his personality he's rescuing from the disease.

BLOCK: For listener Wes Breitenbach, Carl Moore's story hit close to home. He writes this: It made me realize that I don't remember the last time I heard my mother speak. Huntington's has held her captive inside her own head for too many years now. She went from her regular speech to a mumble, then just noise. I know that there was a last word, I just don't think I knew it at the time. It happened then passed, unannounced or observed. Until now, I never thought of it.

CORNISH: Breitenbach goes on to say that his sister has also tested positive for Huntington's disease and he hopes she will bank her voice. He concludes that after a while, his mother could only look at a family photo and point. He says: Imagine if my sister could touch that same picture and she could talk, in her voice. It both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

BLOCK: Thanks to everyone who wrote in. And, please, do keep your letters coming. Just go to npr.org and click on contact.

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