Science

Indian-origin scientist couple unravels mystery in mitochondria

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on February 26, 2020

The discovery, which opens up a basic science, can impact research on Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer

An Indian-origin scientist couple in Germany have chanced on a crucial finding related to mitochondria that has the potential to unlock new insights into diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer.

For the first time, Arun Kumar Kondadi and Ruchika Anand working with Andreas Reichert at the Heinrich Heine University (HHU), Düsseldorf, stumbled upon the dynamic nature of Cristae, which are folds within the mitochondria that house proteins (similar to batteries), which are critical in producing energy for the body.

The HHU team, in collaboration with the research team of Orian Shirihai and Marc Liesa from UCLA, US, have made this fundamental discovery that Cristae are dynamic and not static.

For over half a century scientists believed that cristae were static and that these batteries lie dormant. Using the Nobel-prize winning technique of super resolution nanoscopy (STED) in imaging live cells, the researchers could decipher that cristae are after all dynamic.

The discovery about the nanoscale organisation of the mitochondria will have far-reaching implications in the future as it opens up a basic science, they told BusinessLine in a telephonic interaction.

The changes in the structure of cristae in the mitochondria are related to diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer.

“In our opinion, this finding fundamentally changes the way our cellular power plants work and will probably change textbooks,” says Andreas Reichert.

Mitochondria basics

Mitochondria is the powerhouse of cells. They work continuously to convert energy from food into chemical energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP, in turn, drives many processes in human cells like muscle contraction. It is referred to as the energy currency of cells. An adult human produces and consumes approximately 75 kg of ATP a day.

Mitochondria contains two membranes: outer and inner. The inner membrane further consists of folds called cristae which house the proteins to make the energy required by the body.

The startling revelation can open up a new branch of basic science which details mitochondrial quality control, particularly because changes in the cristae structure in mitochondria are related to many diseases like Parkinsons, diabetes and cancer, they explained.

The cristae dynamics are probably required to optimise a variety of mitochondrial processes not yet known.

The results are described in the internationally reputed journal ‘EMBO reports’.

One molecule of ATP is produced about 20,000 times a day and then consumed again for energy utilisation. This immense synthesis capacity takes place in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, which has numerous folds called cristae.

By peering deeper into the mitochondia with Flourescence Microscopy, they have studied the dynamics of cristae membranes in relation to the recently-identified protein complex called the MICOS complex.

Malfunctions of the Micos complex, which consists of at least six proteins found in yeast and animals, can lead to various diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and a form of mitochondrial encephalopathy with liver damage. The researchers are expanding the scope of their studies.

Published on February 26, 2020

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