The Structure of Mitochondria


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The process by which energy is produced through chemical transfers across the inner membrane is called oxidative phosphorylation.

Mitochondria structure

During this process, the oxidation of carbohydrates in the mitochondria pumps protons across the inner membrane from the matrix into the intermembrane space. The imbalance in protons causes the protons to diffuse back across the inner membrane into the matrix through an enzyme complex that is a precursor form of ATP and is called ATP synthase. It interacts with the inner membrane to carry out the main energy-producing functions of the mitochondria.

It contains the enzymes and chemicals that take part in the krebs cycle to produce ATP from glucose and fatty acids. The matrix is where the mitochondrial genome made up of circular DNA is found and where the ribosomes are located. The presence of ribosomes and DNA means that the mitochondria can produce their own proteins and can reproduce using their own DNA, without relying on cell division.

The structure of mitochondria

If mitochondria seem to be tiny, complete cells on their own, it is because they were probably separate cells at one point when single cells were still evolving. Mitochondrion-like bacteria entered larger cells as parasites and were allowed to remain because the arrangement was mutually beneficial. The bacteria were able to reproduce in a secure environment and supplied energy to the larger cell. Over hundreds of millions of years, the bacteria became integrated into multicellular organisms and evolved into today's mitochondria.


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Since mitochondria multiply independently based on the mitochondrial genome and don't take part in cell division, new cells simply inherit the mitochondria that happen to be in their part of the cytosol when the cell divides. This function is important for the reproduction of higher organisms, including humans, because embryos develop from a fertilized egg.

The egg cell from the mother is large and contains a lot of mitochondria in its cytosol while the fertilizing sperm cell from the father has hardly any. As a result, children inherit their mitochondria and their mitochondrial DNA from their mother. Through their ATP synthesis function in the matrix and through cellular respiration across the double membrane, mitochondria and the mitochondrial function are a key component of animal cells and help make life as it exists possible.

Cell structure with membrane-bound organelles has played an important part in human evolution and mitochondria have made an essential contribution. Bert Markgraf is a freelance writer with a strong science and engineering background. Online he has written extensively on science-related topics in math, physics, chemistry and biology and has been published on sites such as Digital Landing and Reference.

Mitochondria are membrane-bound organelles enclosed by a double membrane. The viscous fluid inside the inner membrane is called the matrix. Because they are found in animal cells today, they form a key part of early human evolution. These include the enzymes required for the citric acid cycle, the proteins involved in DNA replication and transcription, and ribosomal proteins.

The protein complexes of the respiratory chain are a mixture of proteins encoded by mitochondrial genes and proteins encoded by nuclear genes. Proteins in both the outer and inner mitochondrial membranes help transport newly synthesized, unfolded proteins from the cytoplasm into the matrix, where folding ensues Figure 3. This causes diffusion of the tethered protein and its receptor through the membrane to a contact site, where translocator proteins line up green. When at this contact site, the receptor protein hands off the tethered protein to the translocator protein, which then channels the unfolded protein past both the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes.

Figure Detail. Mitochondria cannot be made "from scratch" because they need both mitochondrial and nuclear gene products.

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These organelles replicate by dividing in two, using a process similar to the simple, asexual form of cell division employed by bacteria. Video microscopy shows that mitochondria are incredibly dynamic. They are constantly dividing, fusing, and changing shape. Indeed, a single mitochondrion may contain multiple copies of its genome at any given time.

This page appears in the following eBook. Aa Aa Aa. Mitochondria are unusual organelles. They act as the power plants of the cell, are surrounded by two membranes, and have their own genome.


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They also divide independently of the cell in which they reside, meaning mitochondrial replication is not coupled to cell division. Some of these features are holdovers from the ancient ancestors of mitochondria, which were likely free-living prokaryotes. What Is the Origin of Mitochondria? What Is the Purpose of a Mitochondrial Membranes?

At the inner mitochondrial membrane, a high energy electron is passed along an electron transport chain. Is the Mitochondrial Genome Still Functional? A signal sequence at the tip of a protein blue recognizes a receptor protein pink on the outer mitochondrial membrane and sticks to it.


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Logically, mitochondria multiply when a the energy needs of a cell increase. Therefore, power-hungry cells have more mitochondria than cells with lower energy needs. For example, repeatedly stimulating a muscle cell will spur the production of more mitochondria in that cell, to keep up with energy demand. Mitochondria, the so-called "powerhouses" of cells, are unusual organelles in that they are surrounded by a double membrane and retain their own small genome. They also divide independently of the cell cycle by simple fission.

Mitochondrial division is stimulated by energy demand, so cells with an increased need for energy contain greater numbers of these organelles than cells with lower energy needs. Topic rooms within Cell Biology Close.

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The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria
The Structure of Mitochondria The Structure of Mitochondria

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