Who discovered the mitochondria?

Mitochondrian

The mitochondrian was first identified at the end of the 19th century by a German pathologist and histologist (tissue researcher) named Richard Altmann. It was given the name “mitochondria” by Karl Benda, a German physician. (1857-1933). [source: wikipedia] Altmann is known for his work involving cell theory and structure. In his study of animal cells, he investigated small granules in the protoplasm of the cell. He called these particles- bioblasts, which he postulated were elementary organisms that had metabolic and genetic autonomy. Today Altmann’s bioblasts are known as mitochondria.

Mitochondrion

So what are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the modern cell, providing some 90% of the energy needed for survival. In 1963, scientists discovered mitochondria had their own DNA, arranged in circles, containing the blueprints for 37 of the molecules mitochondria need to create to generate energy.

The single-cell embryo that results from the merger of the egg and sperm has a solitary nucleus with a matching set of chromosomes with about 100,000 genes from the sperm and 100,000 from the egg. These are coded in about three billion base pairs along the strands of DNA.

The fertilized egg, and all of its descendant cells, divide their chromosomes into two mirror images and then split into new cells with each cell obtaining a full set of genes.

By comparison, the DNA of mitochondria has only 16,569 base pairs and these are all inherited from the cytoplasm of the egg. The male makes no contribution to this complement.

Making Fuel for the whole body

Each mitochondrion has a convoluted inner membrane, like a giant nucleus, within its smooth outer membrane. It generates energy by relaying electrons along a series of proteins embedded in the inner membrane. This series is called the respiratory chain. The electrons interact with oxygen and protons to form water and energy.

Mitochondria direct the energy released from the oxidation of hydrogen to pump protons across the inner membrane. This creates a charge and chemical differential that facilitates the synthesis of ATP Synthase which in turn facilitates the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is liberated into the cell cytoplasm and distributed throughout the body as fuel for all cellular activities.

The process depends upon a steady supply of oxygen and hydrogen (H+) as well as electrons supplied from food. Should any of these be in short supply, the cells rapidly run out of fuel and die. Should mutations inhibit the process of ATP production, the cells begin to weaken.

Source: Wikipedia and This Magic Sea.