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Tag: ATP

Do Mitochondria contribute to neurological and psychiatric disorders?

Mitochondria have had a deep history through the evolution of eukaryotic cells. A primitive bacterium was engulfed by another free floating prokaryotic cell. Many think that this was originally how eukaryotic cells were formed and why mitochondria have their own DNA different from a their cells nucleus. Endosymbiotic theory has been used to understand the intricacies of Mitochondria and leaves many clues as to how their relationship with their cell affects its overall performance  The mutually beneficial relationship between both has lasted for over two billion years by fueling the processes for everyday life.

Mitochondria are membrane-bound cell organelles which generate majority of the chemical energy needed to power a cell’s biochemical reactions. Cell, Mitochondria, Biology, Organelle, ScientificChemical energy produced by the mitochondria is stored in a small molecule called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This is only one of the many essential jobs mitochondrion hold as an organelles in our cells.

Since mitochondria have their own set of DNA different from their cells, it makes it both a critical element of our cells and a potential source of problems. Mitochondrial DNA can harbor mutations similarly to ones in our nuclei. These can either be detrimental to their function powering our bodies or have little to no effect whatsoever. Age, stress and other factors may disrupt mitochondria’s many functions. On top of that, mitochondrial injury can release molecules that, due to their similarities to those made by bacteria, can be mistaken by our immune system as foreign invaders, triggering a harmful inflammatory response against our own cells.

One of our most important organs, the brain, needs mitochondria the most for its power driven functions. “The more energetically demanding a cell is, the more mitochondria they have, and the more critical that mitochondria health is — so there’s more potential for things to go wrong,” says Andrew Moehlman, postdoctoral researcher who studies neurodegeneration at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Some estimates assume that each neuron can have up to two million mitochondria meanwhile there are eighty-six billion neurons in our brain.

Researchers have then linked dozens of disorders to alterations in mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA related to mitochondrial function. The majority of these are either neurological in nature or have some effect on the brain because of how dominant mitochondria is in the brain. According to Douglas Wallace, a doctoral student at Yale University, despite making up only 2 percent of a human’s body weight, the brain uses roughly a fifth of the body’s energy. These small reductions in mitochondrial function can have large effects on the brain, Wallace explains.

ATP gives us the energy we need for our body to function as we learned through our cellular respiration unit. Without this form of energy, our body simply cannot function which is why mitochondria play a key role in brain function. Mutations which affect the flow of ATP synthase seem most detrimental to cell function and as we know is where ADP and a Phosphorus join together to create ATP. Mitochondria’s own set of DNA makes it difficult to pinpoint a mutation and leaves animals vulnerable to neurological disorders.

Can Obesity Be Cured Through Thermogenesis by Brown and Beige Fat Cells?

In an attempt to find methods for treating obesity and diabetes, researchers recently discovered a new cellular pathway that triggers thermogenesis, the process by which fat cells (called adipocytes) create heat by burning energy. 

The human body has white adipocytes in which energy is stored in the shape of a single, large oily droplet. It also has brown adipocytes which contain a mixture of many, small oily droplets and dark-colored mitochondria (which create the brown color of these fat cells). The mitochondria in the brown adipocytes act as engines that turn the oily droplets into heat and energy. Some people also have “beige” adipocytes consisting of brown-like cells found within white adipocytes which can be triggered to burn energy. 

Brown fat cell

Adipose tissue, otherwise known as fat tissue, can be composed of either white adipocytes or brown adipocytes. The white tissue is primarily used for triglyceride storage while brown tissue functions to expend energy, potentially counteracting obesity. BMP7 is the protein that causes the adipogenesis (formation) of brown fat cells. It was found in a study that mice lacking the gene BMP7 did not have any brown fat and subsequently had a more difficult time losing weight. The protein BMP7 causes an increase in energy expenditure and reduction in weight gain. 

In order to create energy, the human body converts carbohydrates into glucose (much like the mice described above), a type of sugar used as fuel for cells. Excess glucose is stored in the white adipocytes of muscles and the liver for later use by the body to stabilize blood sugar levels and create energy as needed. By contrast, in adipocytes, glycogen not only stores energy but also sends a signal to the uncoupling protein to “uncouple” ATP, the molecule providing energy for fueling cellular processes. This process, which is completed using Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP1), ensures that only the adipocytes with sufficient energy to provide fuel for heat are triggered to generate heat and balance energy needed by the body. 

The uncoupling protein, formally known as Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP1), is a unique protein, located in the inner membrane of mitochondria. UCP1 is devoted to adaptive thermogenesis, a special function performed by brown adipocytes. The protein itself is located near the multi-enzymatic complex called the respiratory chain where, by reducing coenzymes, electrons are driven towards oxygen in a process called oxido-reduction. Through oxido-reduction, an electrochemical gradient of protons is generated across the inner membrane of the mitochondria.

This electrochemical gradient is normally consumed by ATP-synthase, which occurs from the phosphorylation of ADP. UCP1 simultaneously transports proteins passively, in what is known as a futile cycle. Named after its lack of perceived utility, the futile cycle was thought to be a quirk of metabolism when initially discovered. In reality, the futile cycle generates heat by dissipating energy through two separate metabolic pathways. Playing an integral role in regulating metabolism, the futile cycle maintains thermal homeostasis within brown adipocytes.

In the future, it is possible that the injection of brown fat cells into white fat cells will become a common method of inducing fat burn in individuals struggling with obesity.

Throughout my life, I’ve personally struggled to maintain an appropriate weight. It always seemed to me that even though I didn’t eat as much as others, I somehow seemed to gain weight more easily than many people who ate more than I did and yet remained skinny. This new understanding by researchers of how glycogen works in fat cells to promote fat burning and better metabolism has implications for obese people who may someday be injected with more brown fat cells to help increase their metabolism and thus decrease their weight gain. Hurray!!

COVID-19 New Target: The Environment

The deadly COVID-19 virus has changed our way of living greatly, including individual human behavior as well as behavior on a larger scale regarding businesses and factories.

National Geographic published an article written by Beth Gardiner surrounding the misconception on how the environment has been impacted by this widespread virus. It is noted that many people assume the environment is in a thriving state due to a major decrease of time humans spent outside of their home. Ultimately this is not the case, the question is what’s really happening to our earth in this time of uncertainty?

The only way to answer this question is to look back on the beginning of the worldwide lockdown. In April 2020, people stayed inside, there was limited traveling occurring, and businesses and factories closed, with this information it imperative to see how this vast change impacted our surroundings. It was found that “daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent”. Although seemingly positive, this number is not much higher than that of previous years around a similar time. This means that with a complete lifestyle change from every single person and cooperation in the world, we still are unable to show a substantial amount of beneficial actions towards the environment to save it.

Now we all may know that carbon is released into the air in a variety of ways, however it is important to distinguish the differences in these ways. One of the most known, harmless ways is how living organisms release or interact with carbon. As we breathe we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, releasing it into the atmosphere, however plants and trees can use this CO2 to preform necessary tasks such as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process where “plants use the energy from sunlight to produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water”. This process is crucial to support the life of a plant and provides their “food” to keep them thriving. Once the glucose is produced in the plant, pyruvate can be created. Pyruvic acid provides energy, ultimately allowing the increase of ATP production during the cellular respiration process.

ATP is energy used to power different processes such as forms of active transport allowing substances to move from a low to high concentration, unlike passive transport. ATP is not required when passive transport is occurring. As ATP is produced, it can be stored to be used later for processes such as cellular respiration and photosynthesis which are crucial in maintaining healthy plant cells, however, ATP can not be stored in its usual form, it must be in the form of storage molecules such as the carbohydrate glycogen. Carbohydrates function to store and release energy, once ATP is needed, it will be transformed out of it’s storage form back to ATP.

Now why is this background information important? Now that we see the good natural carbon dioxide does, we need to focus on how a certain type is damaging our planet. Carbon dioxide is emitted through the usage of gas from cars and factory productions, things so normalized on a daily basis. When these machines and vehicles release carbon, it has no where to go besides the atmosphere and plants can only take in so much carbon, ultimately its just pollution. This pollution now sits in our atmosphere and builds up as more time goes on. Carbon is needed to regulate and take in the inferred energy the earth releases, otherwise known as heat. Although carbon absorbs this energy, it still needs to go somewhere and one of those places is back into the earth’s environment. The excess amount of carbon in the atmosphere leads to something called climate change ultimately the more carbon released and built up, the hotter the earth will get which can make the earth inhospitable if we make no change. Another negative of the carbon build up in the atmosphere, is the effect is has on marine life. Carbon can make water acidic which damages the habitats and living conditions of underwater life.

Now that Carbon emission is fully explained and exemplified, lets answer our initial question. How has COVID-19 played apart in environmental issues. As mentioned there is evidence in a decrease in carbon emissions when human behavior was significantly changed, however the decrease barely surpassed that of previous years when life was ‘normal’. As things began to open up and manufacturing continued, it was found that the amount of carbon emissions went right back up to where there initially were. “In China, traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels”, and “factories pushed to make up for lost time, pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them”, disproving the idea that COVID-19 has been beneficial to our environment. Ultimately we have shown no progress in improving our environment even when almost every aspect of typical life was shut down. COVID-19 instilled panic in everyone including factories that are now just working to pollute the atmosphere more while they still can.

A Computer Powered By ATP?

Could supercomputers be powered by ATP the same molecules that power our cells? And could these computers run faster than normal supercomputers? The Dan Nicolau and his son Dan Nicolau Jr. seem to think so. Although this computer is not yet a reality the father and son duo have been working on a model of this bio-supercomputer for seven years. The original drawing looked like “small worms exploring mazes” according to Dan Nicolau. These chips use short strings of proteins instead of electrons and using ATP to power it all.



Molecule of ATP

You may be wondering why this is a big deal. It is because traditional supercomputers spend so much power cooling themselves down they need their own power plant to function. Since ATP is used in biological organisms it does not heat up as much. This could lead to dramatic decreases in the amount of energy a supercomputer uses. The model is promising but the father and son do not have an estimate on when the supercomputer could become a reality. One possibility according to Dan Nicolau is the integration of the bio supercomputer with a traditional supercomputer.


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A Living Supercomputer is No Longer Science Fiction

“A supercomputer that’s alive? No way, sounds like a bunch of nonsense sci-fi to me!” Well, an international team of researchers at McGill University would beg to differ.

These researchers recently created a supercomputer that uses biological agents as an energy source, rather than electricity. Their new “biocomputer” is also significantly smaller and more energy efficient than the typical supercomputer.

The secret? ATP, or energy used by almost all living, breathing creatures. ATP speeds up the “thinking” process in a computer by allowing it to make parallel computations instead of sequencing only one signal at a time.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 7.07.57 PM(Source:

Strings of biological agents arranged in a very miniscule (on the nano scale) but highly organized circuit grid are powered by ATP to move in a controlled fashion to send parallel signals in the computer.

One of the most famous supercomputers, IBM’s Watson, is very large, as depicted by the image below:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 7.06.36 PM(Source:

But this new biocomputer is about the size of a book due to the nano scale of the biological agents. Also due to these agents, there is less heat produced, so the computer uses a lot less energy than an electronic supercomputer (which often needs its own power plant to function).

Of course, further research needs to be done, but this creation of the biocomputer is a huge achievement in the world of artificial intelligence.

Check out this other article regarding the new biocomputer, and these articles on more information about the supercomputers of today, such as Watson and Google’s AlphaGO, and artificial intelligence in general.


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