Mitochondrial mechanisms studied as contributors to pathogenesis

By Mohamad Hamze

Over almost two centuries of research, the mitochondria of the human cell have been established as enigmatic organelles, dysfunctions of which are often responsible for disorders like certain heart diseases, Parkinson's, and genetic diseases. Scientists at the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki have begun a set of studies on the role of mitochondrial malfunction in the onset of certain pathologies.

The history and role of the mitochondria are important in understanding their relevance to pathological research. Often referred to as “the powerhouse of the cell,” the mitochondria of eukaryotes began, as director Howy Jacobs describes, “as a bacterial intruder in ancient cells.” This aspect of their biology helps explain characteristics such as a double membrane structure and a separate DNA from the nucleus of the cell. Furthermore, the team relates the consequences of mitochondrial malfunction to those of a malfunctioning combustion engine and has set out to detail how the understanding of the operation of respiratory mechanisms of the organelles could lead to better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mitochondrial diseases.

Like all parts of the human cell, the mitochondria as we know it today is the product of extensive evolution. The vast database of information contained in the human genome has been used to study and understand this evolution, but ethical issues arise when discussing the genome as a possible target of manipulation for the study or treatment of human disease. The Helsinki team foresees the time where this will become a possibility, especially regarding mitochondria, and as such will have to consider the ethical ramifications and trade-offs of such a decision.

 

Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). "Mitochondrial dysfunction is the root cause of many diseases." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2017.