From small things: mitochondrial research
Once the preserve of cell biology textbooks at medical school, mitochondria are now finding their way into all sorts of clinical practice, as Toby Reynolds explains
- By: Toby Reynolds
What links Parkinson's disease, exercise intolerance, diabetes, and organ failure in sepsis? Anything common to such a disparate group would need to be quite fundamental, and there aren't many things more elementary than generating the energy needed to stay alive. This is the job of the mitochondrion—the dynamo of the cell—and recent research indicates that it contributes to a wide range of diseases.
Mitochondria are thought to have started off as free living prokaryotes that were engulfed by the ancestors of modern nucleated cells millions of years ago. One of the features hinting at their previous lives is that they have retained some of their own DNA.
Although the role of these tiny intracellular organelles is vital, their relevance to clinical practice has often seemed obscure. Cell biologists worked out how mitochondria make energy four decades ago. Since then medical students have had to trace out how, after a glucose