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Home » How Mitochondria May Protect Us Fom Disease: Lena Pernas (Transcript)

How Mitochondria May Protect Us Fom Disease: Lena Pernas (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Lena Pernas’ talk titled “How Mitochondria May Protect Us Fom Disease” at TEDxPadova 2023 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Trillions of Microbes in Our Bodies

There are trillions of microbes in this auditorium. Many of them are the bacteria that live on and in our bodies. The vast majority of these microbes, however, are the ones that live in almost each and every one of our cells. The microbes that I’m referring to are mitochondria.

For those of you who remember your high school textbooks, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, mitochondria are not microbes, they’re small things that perform important functions in our cells.” You’re absolutely right. But today I want to share with you why we should instead think of mitochondria as microbes and how viewing them from this microbial lens can help us discover new ways to combat infectious disease.

The Bacterial Ancestry of Mitochondria

Mitochondria have a dirty little secret. Their ancestors were bacteria. Although the idea that mitochondria were derived from bacteria was considered ridiculous when it was first proposed in the 1960s, we now understand that about 1.5 billion years ago, a bacterium found its way into a larger cell and stayed. Thanks to this event, we now have mitochondria, which have retained some of their bacterial traits, traits that render them susceptible to the antibiotics that we all take, and traits like their DNA.

Given that Mother’s Day is approaching, I have to remind you all that all of our mitochondrial DNA comes from our mother. Sorry, Papa. 1.5 billion years later, we cannot live without our mitochondria. If our mitochondria are not happy, we are not healthy. There’s an avalanche of studies that shows that unhealthy mitochondria are linked to all sorts of illnesses, including neurodegenerative, cardiac diseases, and age-related diseases.

The Vital Functions of Mitochondria

So what makes mitochondria so important? Well, we know they perform several important functions. For example, they help us produce hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol, hormones that help our bodies develop and respond to stress. But probably their most vital function is that they are the powerhouses of our cells.

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