What are mitochondria?

In order to survive, the human body needs energy. This is obtained from food and then enters the cells via the blood. In order to be able to be used or stored there, however, it must first be “burned” – similar to petrol in an engine. This is the task of the mitochondria, which are therefore also referred to as the body’s power plants.

Mitochondria – structure

Mitochondria are special small cell organs that are present in every cell – they are particularly common in muscle, nerve, sensory and egg cells. A mitochondrion is usually bean-shaped, but occasionally round. It consists of an inner and an outer membrane.

While the outer membrane envelops the organelle like a shell, the inner membrane is folded and fanned. Between these  folds  is the fluid mitochondrial matrix. The protein complexes of the respiratory chain contained therein are responsible for the actual energy production.

The matrix also has its own genome, the ring-shaped DNA of the mitochondrion, and ribosomes. The mitochondrial genome accounts for about one percent of human genetic information. Therefore, defective mitochondria can cause about 50 different diseases (mitochondriopathies).

Mitochondria – function

Mitochondria are created by dividing themselves into two, similar to bacteria. Food that enters the body is first digested and then absorbed into the blood. There it is in turn distributed to the cells, where it is converted into storage energy through cell respiration or oxidation.

Since the chemical functions of the respiratory chain take place in the mitochondria, the released energy is converted there, stored in a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and can thus be used at any time. Once the mitochondria are used up, they are broken down by the endoplasmic reticulum, the Golgi apparatus and the lysosomes.

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