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The Thor of a Cell - Mitochondria

I don’t suppose you have ever wondered what a Mitochondria is, or how your body produces the energy you need just to live?

I have labelled Mitochondria as the Thor of cells - they are known as the powerhouse of the cell - small structures called organelles that have a mighty function. They are responsible for carrying out the process of converting and releasing energy from glucose to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

In other words, mitochondria are the parts of cells that turn the food we eat (sugars, fats, proteins)#macronutrients into the chemical energy that is needed so that the body can function. It is called cellular respiration.

The organs of the body that need a lot of energy #energy, such as muscle cells, contain a lot of mitochondria.

BUT - that is not all that mitochondria do. They are also involved in other processes ie they break down waste products and recycle some of those waste products to save energy. They actually kill cells (apoptosis) as well as controlling cell division cycles and growth.

Apoptosis is essential for cell growth and development as cells don’t always die when they should. They can begin to grow uncontrollably which is how tumours begin. Mitochondria are being researched by scientists in how they are related to cancer and are targets for the development of drugs to stop cancer.

Other processes that Mitochondria are involved in are signalling and cellular differentiation. So it’s easy to see that when mitochondria go wrong, the consequence can be serious disease.

Mitochondria need oxygen in order to burn food and produce energy. This is called oxidative phosphorylation. No oxygen, they don’t work. They don’t work, you die.

Therefore, during a heart attack or stroke, the blood stops delivering oxygen to the heart and brain. Much energy is needed by the heart and brain but, with no oxygen, the mitochondria stop working. Cells in the brain and/or the heart are therefore damaged or even die.

Once oxygen comes back, the mitochondria get overwhelmed and produce a lot of “free radicals”. As free radicals are very reactive, this can cause a lot of extra damage.

An interesting piece of information about mitochondria in animals is that their DNA comes from the female egg only. The sperm’s mitochondria enter the egg but they do not survive very long. The few mitochondria that are contained in the egg cell divide and they populate the adult. So mitochondria are usually inherited down the female line.

So, in a nutshell, that is why I have labelled mitochondria as the Thor of a cell.

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