Mitochondria Primer 1

September 23, 2018

References: Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine

 You need to know what mitochondria are. Why, because they decide when you live or die. They are at the nexus of your brain being healthy. They provide your energy. So what are they? Energy factories. They are tiny organelles inside each and every cell that make your energy molecule called ATP. They probably result from the fusion of two bacteria two billion years ago. One took up residence in the other, and was able to stay because it helped the other. It had learned how to burn energy from fat in what we now call "the electron transport chain". 

In that chain, the new resident was able to extract the latent energy in fat by shifting the electrons across membranes and grabbing the resulting energy in the form of a molecule called ATP. ATP has three phosphate groups lined up that can carry the energy around for use elsewhere. The boost of energy production was from 2 ATP per glucose to 38, 19 fold! A regular human cell can only make 2 ATP per glucose without its mitochondria. 

We could never have evolved such delicate, magnificent cells if we hadn't first gotten a reliable source of energy. That partnership of those first two cells was the beginning of complex life on earth. Each mitochondria today has about 10,000 electron chain complexes in it, processing our fuel needs one ATP molecule at a time. The proteins in the chain are lined up in a precise complex allowing energetic electrons shed their energy to be captured by the transport chain and then attached to ADP molecules with two phosphates, remaking ATP with three phosphates. 

 Over the millennia, the new resident gradually lost most of its own DNA, depending on its host to provide most of its genes, except for the very critical few that it needed to decide when to make more energy, or when to make less. "When to hold 'em, when to fold 'em". And it hung on to 10 sets of those 37 genes (compared to 22,000 proteins in humans) in each mitochondrion. The human cell is incredibly complex and very energy-dependent. We would not be what we are without our little power plants chugging away. You are 10% mitochondria by weight. A human egg has 100,000 of them, lying dormant until fertilized when the 100 mitochondria from a sperm get knocked off. 

Hence, all your mitochondria come from your mother. We can trace your maternal lineage through your mitochondria, not your paternal. Muscle cells of athletes have 300-400 while us couch potatoes have only 150-200. (Getting in shape builds more mitochondria - of course!) Heart cells have 5,000, as does the brain. But the retina is probably the champ at 7,000 per cell. Vision is hard work. And aging eyes get mitochondrial diseases we call macular degeneration. Is that enough for one week? Reread this letter. Learn it. We all need to know how to manage and care for our mitochondria. 

 www.what will work for me. I'm trying to bring the concept of mitochondria into my practice. We all should know about them and how to care for them. When I treated my father's mitochondrial disease called congestive heart failure, his ejection fraction improved dramatically by about 30% and lived 5 years longer than his projected lifespan. Considering that 50% of us have some congestive failure when we die, and that is a mitochondrial disease, should be enough to convince all of us that the care of our mitochondria is important. Hence, this series. Part 2 and 3 still coming. 

  Pop Quiz

  1. How much a boost to energy supply did mitochondria provide?                   Answer: 19 fold
  2. You can track your genes for your family most accurately through what modality?    Answer: Not,,,,,your mitochondria. You can read all about "Mitochondrial Eve" to see how we figured out that humans came out of Africa about 90,000 years ago, having started somewhere in Ethiopia.
  3. What cell has the most mitochondria of all?                                                  Answer: the female ova, otherwise the retina.
  4. If your heart can't make enough energy to pump blood, what clinical disease do we call that? Answer: Congestive heart failure. which 50% of us have when we die. Makes sense. You die when your heart poops out. Your heart poops out when its mitochondria can't supply the energy you need.
  5. What happens in your muscle cells of your leg when you walk every day at least two miles? Answer: Build more mitochondria: aka, getting in shape.