The mitochondrion (“my-tow-con-dree-on”) is an organelle of a cell. That means, it is part of a cell wrapped in its own membrane. Two of them are called mitochondria.
They serve two functions in a cell.
Waste Disposal Unit
They take in the waste products of fermentation and gently them to make simpler chemicals like carbon dioxide and water.
During this burning some of the of these waste products is converted into , the molecule used by all living things to store and transport energy. So mitochondria are also the power stations of the cell.
An animal mitochondrion showing its DNA. Diagram courtesy of Mariana Ruiz Villarreal
Mitochondria occur in both plant and animal cells as sausage shaped bodies closely packed in regions actively using ATP energy. They are about 1 micrometer in length, slightly smaller than a typical .
If a soccer ball were inflated to the size of the Earth (Soccearth) then a mitochondrion would be between 25 and 75 meters across.
Mitochondria still have a small chromosome of their own and make some of their own proteins, showing that they were once separate bacteria. During reproduction, copies of the mother’s mitochondria are passed on inside the egg. They are found in all eukaryotes but do not occur in . This suggests that the mitochondria were originally . They evolved from an early that began to live inside a larger .
In time the genes of the host bacterium split into several smaller units called chromosomes. The reason is not clear. These chromosomes were wrapped up in a membrane in the middle of the cell to make the . Notice we used the same word to describe the central part of an atom, because the word means “center”.
All cells more advanced than are like this. They are called “eukaryotes” (“you-carry-oats”). The name means “well centered”.
Some parts of an animal eukaryotic cell
Eukaryotes are much larger and more complex than bacteria, and have many more genes. Eukaryotes appeared about 1.5 billion years ago.
Almost all the plant and animal cells you can see around you are eukaryotic. They contain structures called .
If a soccer ball was inflated to the size of the Earth () then a single eukaryotic cell can be from 500m to 2km or more across – about the size of a factory.
eBook only $2.99
398 pages, 300 images
"I find the science fabulous...an extremely useful teaching tool."
Professor David Christian
Subscribe to daily video emails
Become a Citizen of the Universe
and get your free badge!