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New insights into the how the "powerhouse of the cell" works

09 August 2011 Universitaet Tübingen

Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. They are thought to have evolved more than a billion years ago from primitive bacterium which was engulfed by an early eukaryotic cell resulting in endosymbiotic relationships between the host cell and the newly formed organelle. During evolution the vast majority of the mitochondrial genetic material left the organelle and got integrated into the nucleus of the host cell. Hence, most of the mitochondrial proteins are synthesized outside of the organelle and have to be imported into the various internal mitochondrial compartments.

Researchers from the Interfaculty Institute of Biochemistry (IFIB) of the University of Tübingen characterized recently a novel import pathway into the mitochondria. The group of Doron Rapaport employs a wide variety of genetic, biochemical and molecular cell biology methods in their studies. In the current project they used radiolabeled proteins and mitochondria isolated from yeast cells. Using this approach they discovered an unknown import route that is taken by a sub-group of proteins that span the mitochondrial outer membrane with multiple domains. The group could identify the components involved in this import pathway and to characterize their contribution to the process. These findings are reported in the current issue of the renowned Journal of Cell Biology. 

This work contributes to our understanding of the formation of the organelle and its maintenance within the cell. As mitochondrial defects are playing an important role in many human sicknesses, these findings can add to our perception of these diseases.

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