Mitochondria, the power house of the cell, mitocondrias, chondrosome, etc.... Whatever name you call it doesn’t really matter, what matters is the incredible things this organelle is capable of! Let’s explore just a few of it’s weird, cool, and important abilities or traits!
1. They create usable energy (and an important byproduct)!
Mitochondria (particularly the mitochondrial matrix) is the site of the most efficient portion of a process called Cellular Respiration (the Citric Acid Cycle)! Cellular Respiration takes energy from the food we eat - in the form of glucose - and transforms it into the energy that allows us to move, breathe, and exist, called adenosine triphosphate or ATP! Organisms that don’t have mitochondria can only undergo the first portion of Cellular Respiration (Glycolysis) which will only generate around 4 ATP, versus those with mitochondria who can generate up to 36 ATP under ideal conditions! Speaking of the products of important reactions, it would be silly to overlook a very important byproduct of Cellular Respiration - carbon dioxide! That’s right, one of the most important reactants (or materials needed) for photosynthesis. Hmmm... I wonder if these processes are connected ;).
2. They are in charge of their own replication!
Say whaaaat??? Nope, you read that right! Mitochondria are capable of undergoing cell division completely independently of the cell in which they’re contained. Not only is this information absolutely awesome, but it’s also valuable evidence to support the Endosymbiotic Theory!
3. They have their own DNA, and that DNA comes exclusively from your maternal side!
Just some more support for the Endosymbiotic Theory right here! Mitochondria contain their own DNA, usually shorthandedly referred to as mtDNA. This mtDNA is special though, because it comes entirely* from your mom! Well, really, it comes entirely from the egg that became you - but really that’s just part of your mom, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. If you’re wondering why this is - you’re not alone! Currently, we believe that although sperm DO have some mitochondria, they really only contribute DNA during fertilization. The rest of the cellular components from vacuoles to centrioles to cytoplasm to ribosomes comes from the ova, or egg. The ova is a much larger cell is DENSELY packed with mitochondria, making it not real coincidence that that mtDNA is contributed only* by mom.
* It’s estimated that for every 1000 mitochondria attributed to your maternal side, there is 1 from your pop’s side!
4. They’re much larger than most organelles!
Unlike most organelles, mitochondria take up quite a bit of space - in fact their so large and jam packed with information that they even have some internal folding (increased surface area means increased space for reactions to take place). This is just further evidence for the aforementioned Endosymbiotic Theory - since mitochondria are similar in size to some prokaryotic cells!
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Cover art by Medical News