Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Mitochondria Separate Their Waste

Freiburg researcher shows that cellular power plants collect and break down damaged molecules

In order to protect themselves from harmful substances, cells need to keep the mitochondria – the boiler room, so to speak – shipshape. Up to now, it was unclear whether this housekeeping work involves sorting out defective proteins when they digest mitochondria.

Yeast cells digest their mitochondria in long-time cultures. This process is called mitophagy. Proteins that are digested at a different speed are marked with a fluorescent dye. (© Joern Dengjel)

Dr. Joern Dengjel from the Center for Biological Systems Analysis (ZBSA), Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), and the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies of the University of Freiburg has now discovered in collaboration with researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, that the proteins are sorted out during the constant fusion and fission of mitochondria. The team published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

The process of mitophagy, in which tiny digestive bubbles surround the mitochondria, serves to recycle waste for the cell. Damaged proteins can no longer carry out their function correctly and need to be broken down. Errors in the digestion of mitochondria appear in old age and in the case of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A better understanding of mitophagy could be the key to counteracting the faulty degradation of cellular components, potentially enabling researchers to develop new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

In contrast to bacteria, yeast cells posses mitochondria and are also easy to grow in the laboratory. The researchers used yeasts to observe the processes of mitophagy. Dr. Hagai Abeliovich from the Hebrew University developed a new method for making yeast cells digest mitochondria. Currently, researchers accomplish this by placing stress on the cells with chemicals.

With the new method, yeast cells in long-term cultures begin digesting mitochondria of their own accord – as soon as they have used up all available nutrients. During mitophagy Dengjel succeeded in measuring whether all proteins inside the mitochondria were broken down at the same speed. Indeed, the cell broke down some proteins more quickly than others. When he observed the cells under a fluorescence microscope, he ascertained that the marked proteins in the mitochondria also behaved differently. They appear to be sorted.

The rules by which the sorting is carried out are as yet unknown. However, the researchers demonstrated that mitochondrial dynamics are involved: Mitochondria fuse and divide constantly, forming a network in the process. Genetically modified yeasts that lack these dynamics but form small, round mitochondria exhibit no sorting of the proteins. “The damaged proteins are sorted slowly into an area of the network with each fusion and fission. This mitochondrion is marked and broken down,” says Dengjel. In other words, mitophagy plays the role of garbage collector, separating and recycling waste for the cell. Now Dengjel wants to find out what characterizes the proteins that are sorted out.

Original publication:
H. Abeliovich, M. Zarei, K.T.G. Rigbolt, R.J. Youle and J. Dengjel (2013) Involvement of mitochondrial dynamics in the segregation of mitochondrial matrix proteins during stationary phase mitophagy, Nature Communications 4, Nr. 2789 doi:10.1038/ncomms3789
Dr. Jörn Dengjel
Center for Biological Systems Analysis (ZBSA)
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies
Universität Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-97208

Dr. Jörn Dengjel | Universität Freiburg
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>