Mitochondria are called the “power plants” for the cells in living creatures and they are one of the organelles within a cell.

The primary job of mitochondria is to take the food supplied to them and produce energy that the cell can us. Both plant-like and animal-like cells have mitochondria. The quantity of mitochondria in a cell depends on the type of cell.

There are only one or two mitochondria in simple cells, however, there are thousands of mitochondria in animal cells that require a lot of energy.

An Example of some of those cells in animals that need energy are your muscle cells. An example of cells that don’t need mitochondria are red blood cells.

Their purpose is to carry oxygen throughout the body and without a mitochondria they have a lot more room to store the oxygen.

How mitochondria create energy

Cells need special ATP (adenosine triphosphate) cells for their energy and the mitochondria is responsible for creating the ATP. This energy is created through a process known as “cellular respiration”.

We are familiar with the word respiration because it means “breathing.” When the mitochondria receives food molecules they are in carbohydrate form.

Mitochondria then takes the carbohydrates and mixes them with oxygen to create ATP. Mitochondria also make use of enzyme proteins for a proper chemical reaction.

Mitochondria structure

Mitochondria are so small that you need an electron microscope to see them. Mitochondria also appear in a variety of shapes and the shape and overall function depends upon the cell.

Most mitochondria are either pill-shaped/oval or spherical; but some mitochondria are shaped like onions, strings, sticks or rings. One of the cool things about mitochondria is that they have the ability to change their own shape.

An important aspect to note about mitochondria is that they have a double membrane.

This means that they have two skin layers. The “external boundary” is the outer membrane and this is the one that determines what shape the mitochondria has. The “internal membrane” is inside of the mitochondria and this is the location where the chemical reactions happen to create energy production.

The inner membrane has a lot of irregularly shaped folds called “cristae.” These folds play an important part because they allow the inner membrane to have increased surface for more chemical reactions.

The “matrix” is the space within the inner membrane. No, this isn’t where the creators of the movie series “The Matrix” got their name.

The membrane matrix has a lot of enzymes that help in the energy production through chemical reactions. The matrix is also home to mitochondrial DNA in multiple loops.

This form of DNA has genetic information. Biologists have made an astounding discovery that bacterial DNA and mitochondrial DNA are very similar.

This discovery has led to the theory that bacteria might be the mitochondria’s ancient ancestors.

Other Mitochondria Duties:

Learning what the mitochondria’s responsibilities are, you would think that they have enough to do.

However, they also have a few other jobs in the cell including the production of heat, the metabolism of the cell, the production of certain steroids, controlling calcium concentration, and the citric acid cycle.

 Fun Mitochondria Facts

  • Mitochondria have the ability to grow larger and then divide so that they can reproduce. This sometimes happens when the cell requires additional energy.
  • On the opposite side, if a cell needs less energy, the mitochondria have the power to become inactive or even die.
  • Mitochondria don’t always stay in the same location. When the need arises, they can move around the cell.
  • Identifying the shape of a mitochondria can be tricky because they can change their shape when the need arises.
  • Each mitochondria has to be examined individually because they can produce a variety of different proteins; and some create hundreds of proteins that are needed for many functions.
  • While mitochondria create ATP energy, they also create carbon dioxide in small amounts.

Interesting Facts about Biology

  • Americans eat a lot of chocolate. On average, the average person in the U.S. eats around 12 lbs. of chocolate per year.
  • We have many types of enzymes in our bodies that help to break down the food that we eat. We have different enzymes to break down various food types. Some of the places that we have enzymes in our bodies include: saliva, small intestines, pancreas, and the stomach.
  • Scientists are constantly studying the human body. Two of our senses, seeing and hearing, are some of the most complex that we have, and yet scientists know the least about them than any of the other senses.
  • The Sartorius is the longest muscle in our bodies. This muscle runs from our hips to our knees and it helps when we twist our legs and bend our knees.
  • Those little bumpy lumps that we have on our tongues are called “papillae.”
  • Enzymes don’t get used up or die after their function is done, instead, they can be used over and over again.

Mitochondria Quiz

Now let's test what you have learned!