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 Tissue-engineered colon from human cells develop different types of neurons
02.10.2015 | Children's Hospital Los Angeles

nachricht Big eyes! – MDC Researchers Identify Cause of Inherited Form of Extreme Nearsightedness
02.10.2015 | Max-Delbrück-Centrum für Molekulare Medizin in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New Sinumerik features improve productivity and precision

EMO 2015, Hall 3, Booth E06/F03

  • Drive optimization called automatically by the part program boosts productivity
  • Automatically switching the dynamic values to rapid traverse and interpolation...

Im Focus: LZH presents additive manufacturing at the LABVOLUTION

The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will present how laser-based technologies can contribute to the laboratory of the future at the LABVOLUTION in Hannover in Hall 9, Stand E67/09, from October 6th to 8th, 2015. As a part of the model lab smartLAB, the LZH is showing how additive manufacturing, better known as 3-D printing, can make experimental setups more flexible.

Twelve partners from science and industry are presenting an intelligent and innovative model lab at the special display smartLAB. A part of this intelligent...

Im Focus: New polymer creates safer fuels

Before embarking on a transcontinental journey, jet airplanes fill up with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. In the event of a crash, such large quantities of fuel increase the severity of an explosion upon impact.

Researchers at Caltech and JPL have discovered a polymeric fuel additive that can reduce the intensity of postimpact explosions that occur during accidents and...

Im Focus: 3-D printing techniques help surgeons carve new ears

When surgical residents need to practice a complicated procedure to fashion a new ear for children without one, they typically get a bar of soap, carrot or an apple.

To treat children with a missing or under-developed ear, experienced surgeons harvest pieces of rib cartilage from the child and carve them into the framework...

Im Focus: Walk the line

NASA studies physical performance after spaceflight

Walking an obstacle course on Earth is relatively easy. Walking an obstacle course on Earth after being in space for six months is not quite as simple. The...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Infrared thermography can detect joint inflammation and help improving work ergonomics

02.10.2015 | Medical Engineering

Semiconductor nanoparticles show high luminescence in a polymer matrix

02.10.2015 | Materials Sciences

New Sinumerik features improve productivity and precision

02.10.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>