Mitochondria are the cell's power producers. They convert energy into forms that are usable by the cell. They are the sites of cellular respiration which ultimately generates fuel for the cell's activities.

What are their distinguishing characteristics?

Mitochondria are bounded by a double membrane. Each of these membranes is a phospholipid bilayer with embedded proteins. The outermost membrane is smooth while the inner membrane has many folds. These folds are called cristae. The folds enhance the "productivity" of cellular respiration by increasing the available surface area.

Muscle Cell Mitochondria, Copyright Dennis Kunkel.

The double membranes divide the mitochondrion into two distinct parts: the intermembrane space and the mitochondrial matrix. The intermembrane space is the narrow part between the two membranes while the mitochondrial matrix is the part enclosed by the innermost membrane. Several of the steps in cellular respiration occur in the matrix due to its high concentration of enzymes.

Mitochondrion with matrix, Image courtesy of The Virtual Cell.

Mitochondria are semiautonomous (semi- auto-) in that they can divide and grow to make more of themselves. They also have their own DNA and ribosomes.

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What do you think about the cell's mitochondria? What are the advantages to having mitochondrial "power" production? Are there any disadvantages? Come on over to the Biology Forum and share your thoughts, opinions and feelings.
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