Google+ Facebook Twitter Twitter

Under the microscope: Mitochondria

This month: Mitochondria

What are mitochondria?

Our cells are powered by tiny “powerplants” called mitochondria, which transform nutrients into fuel that sustains life.

Tell me more.

The job of mitochondria is to process oxygen and convert substances from the foods you eat into energy. Mitochondria exist in nearly every cell in the human body. They produce 90% of the energy our bodies need to function.

What is the latest news?

Assistant Professor Sara Nowinski from the Van Andel Institute has

been awarded a five-year award of nearly £2m from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to explore the inner workings of these crucial cellular components and reveal a new understanding of how mitochondria function and power the body.

What happens when they stop working?

Each cell in the human body contains between 1000 and 2500 mitochondria, which convert oxygen, sugars and fatty acids into a cellular fuel, and breakdowns in this vital process have been linked to a host of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes.

Do they have any other functions?

Mitochondria also inexplicably build chains of fatty acids, a process Nowinski believes acts as a connector between nutrient sources and energy.

How does that work?

“Based on our research, we think this pathway links the nutritional environment of cells to their ability to generate energy,” she said. “How this process happens and why it happens is not well understood. The Maximising Investigators’ Research Award will enable us to find answers and reshape what we know about mitochondria.”

Where can I read more?

Read their paper at

Image credit | iStock

Related Articles

Lipoproteins in the central nervous system

US scientists have created a method to detect lipoproteins in the central nervous system that they claim could give new insights into the workings of the brain.

Aggressive prostate cancer and mutations

An international research team has singled out mutations in 11 genes that are associated with aggressive prostate cancer.

Enabling the mRNA COVID vaccine

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

Immunotherapy for all blood cancers

A broad new strategy could hold hope for treating virtually all blood cancers with CAR T cell therapy.