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The Powerhouse of the Cell Could Be Way Hotter Than We Thought

Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum/YouTube/DataBase Center for Life Science/Wikimedia Commons

Mitochondria are the only cellular organelle you probably remember—they’re the powerhouse of the cell, after all. It turns out, they might be a little more powerful than you thought.


That, at least, is what an international team of scientists have measured. One new (but not yet peer-reviewed) study took the temperature of the cellular batteries-turned-memes and found them to be hotter than the average human body temperature—much hotter. Could mitochondria really run a fever some 13 degrees Celsius (around 23 degrees F) warmer than the rest of your body?

Human cells served as the researcher’s test subjects, which they loaded with a temperature-sensitive fluorescent dye called “Mito-Thermo-Yellow.” On exposure to an oxygen-rich environment, the cells dimmed, demonstrating to the team that the mitochondria were heating up to 50 degrees Celsius) as opposed to the body temperature of 37 degrees) while completing the cellular respiration process that turns the food you eat into energy.


New Scientist reports that other teams have created similar fluorescent dyes, and that a prior study testing them estimated that mitochondria in cancer cells could be 6-9 degrees Celsius (11-16 Fahrenheit) warmer than their surroundings. Dyes like these have also been used to measure the temperature of other cellular organelles, too, like the endoplasmic reticulum. Researchers published the new results specifically measuring the mitochondria temperature yesterday on the bioRxiv, a preprint server.

It’s important to note that, while the results do seem consistent with prior estimates, preprint papers haven’t yet been peer reviewed, meaning other scientists haven’t had a chance to look over the results and offer feedback. Maitreyi Das, a researcher in Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, did tell Gizmodo that the paper was exciting, but agreed its findings needed to be taken with caution before it’s published.

If the study’s results hold, though, other researchers may need to review their past work and redo their lab procedures, she said, as the rates of some chemical reactions increase with higher temperatures.

Thanks for reading, and please note that while I tried to make the first letter of every sentence spell out “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” I only made it as far as “mitochondria is th.” Hey, at least I tried.


[BioRxiv via New Scientist]

Science Writer, Founder of Birdmodo

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Andrew Daisuke