Mitochondria are called a power plant of the cell, because it takes nutrients as fuel and transforms them into usable energy. This is its primary function as understood by modern science. However, there is no doubt mitochondria participates in other processes as well. Now scientists from the University of South California found that mitochondria are also directly involved in aging.
This idea came about because mitochondria are involved in metabolism and they lose function and accrue DNA damage during the aging process. Interestingly, mitochondria have their own genome, separate from the larger collection of genes in a cell’s nucleus. Previously, scientists were researching the connection between the nucleus and mitochondria to try and find its role in aging, but there was a view that nucleus is simply controlling functions of mitochondria. Now scientists decided to see if this connection is not a two-way street. Because mitochondria have their own genome, it might be possible, that its role in aging is even larger than believed.
This is all very complicated to understand for common people. But scientists, as David Lee, author of the study, explained “are trying to explore the mitochondrial genome to see how the two communicate and how that will influence the regulation of aging.” And so, scientists want to see how mitochondria control the aging processes through metabolism. Not only it is interesting from scientific point of view, but eventually it could also lead to completely novel therapies treating age-related diseases.
Stopping aging at the cellular level is probably the most reliable way of preventing various conditions, related to old age. The challenge here is our own body, which is pre-programmed to age at its natural pace, which means that scientists have to find a way effectively turn off that mechanism or at least to slow it down. But before it is possible, they have to understand it better from the smallest scale, such as elements of the cell at this time.
Mitochondria are getting a fair share of researches lately. It is proven to be in charge of stem cell fate, have a role in fighting fungal infections, be important in autism development and so on. We can only wait and see what other functions will be revealed and how it will impact treatments in the future.