Bioscience · Future · Science · Technology

Biological Power Plant


Biological Power Plants may actually be a reality. Microscopic organelles called “mitochondria” are ancient prokaryotic bacteria resting within the cells of almost any living animal, and they are responsible of a series of processes overall named “Respiration.” During Respiration mitochondria convert a subdivision (a molecule which originates) of glucose into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) – This molecule is the energy currency in all the organisms (not only animals), because it it the immediate source of energy for all the metabolic processes (reactions that take place within your body) –

Mitochondria, also called “the cells’ powerhouses”, may one day replace batteries as we know them. Scientists from the University of Missouri invented and developed a new fuel cell based on these also called “organelles” (the internal organs of cells). The fuel cell is able to feed on sugars and fats, just like mitochondria in the organisms do.

“This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells,” said Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., who presented the report. “When further developed, these devices have the potential for replacing disposable and rechargeable batteries in a wide variety of consumer electronics and other products. It is the first such device based on one of the microscopic parts of the billions upon billions of cells that make up the body (MFC; O.S.; 1,2).

As you might have predicted by now, ATP can be harnessed and re-used in all sorts of different processes, therefore making it a biofuel.

Now, what can we possibly do with this new biofuel?

Mitochondria, often called the powerhouse of the cell, have been harnessed in a new battery-like device that could one day power small portable devices like mobile phones or laptops.

Mitochondria convert fatty acids and pyruvate, formed from the digestion of sugars and fats, to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s energy supply. Along the way a tiny electrical current is generated, and Shelley Minteer and coworkers from Saint Louis University in Missouri, US, have now harnessed those flowing electrons to put them to work in a new biological battery device (Bbbocpp; L.K.B.; 1,2).”

“Of course,” these scientists have thought “we should definitely use ATP to power our phones, cars, and computers.” You should recognize that those are brain-farts, and very limited ideas of “the future.” One can be more creative and come up with ideas such as using mitochondria to create different forms of energy within the body of a man (such as electricity and sound) – I am saying that this could possible give us superpowers, or such as using mitochondria in fat-loss treatments instead of liposuction, and many more.

The idea of recharging a battery using mitochondria isn’t what surprises me, but the idea of recharging a phone. I try not to but the only thing that I can picture is me feeding my phone a spoonful of sugar at intervals of 24 hours. As it couldn’t get any funnier, I also imagined a laptop keyboard which converts the fat from your fingers into electrical potential energy.

Speaking at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Boston, US, Minteer described how her team has built a biological battery that incorporates whole mitochondria capable of producing a current anywhere from microamps to milliamps per square centimetre, depending on the surface area of the mitochondria and the load density (Bbbocpp; L.K.B.; 3).”

Now we’re talking. Electrical potential energy made available from ATP, inside minuscule organelles. This implies that scientists will have to genetically engineer mitochondria and cultivate them by millions. Or that they can alter the mitochondrial DNA within our cells so that we can cultivate them ourselves within our bodies. This would really be the beginning of a new age, however there are a series of serious problems that they would face:

Mitochondria are very important energy converters. In this process they produce waste products. In mitochondria these are called reactive oxygen species (ROSs). and include ‘free radicals’.

ROSs can damage DNA Mitochondrial DNA is no exception and since it is located so close to the energy converters it can be heavily attacked, sometimes mutating ten times faster than nuclear DNA in an ordinary cell.
These mutations are the source of mitochondrial disease that can affect areas of high energy demand such as brain, muscles, central nervous system and the eye. People suffering from Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease have a much higher mitochondrial mutation rate than do healthy people and so the functioning of mitochondria may be implicated in these diseases.
Mutations caused by ROSs have been suggested as contributing to the ageing process. Many more mutations in mitochondrial DNA take place in people over 65 than in younger people, but many more factors are involved in this inevitable (at present) but variable process.
The working of mitochondria at a molecular level is also involved in the good (or otherwise) progress of people in the very early stages of recovery following open heart and transplant surgery.
In nearly all these ‘disorder’ states it is very likely that other factors, such as genetics, are also involved.
Recent work is linking several severe side effects of treating HIV with the treatment drugs AZT and 3TC. It appears that the drugs damage mitochondria and block the production of mitochondrial DNA (Mmmtaec; BSCB; 7,8).”

Since mitochondrial DNA is not protected, it is target to many mutations, making it exponentially unstable with time. Further more mitochondria are also responsible for a number of other key processes in the mammalian organisms such as apoptosis. Apoptosis is the self-programmed death of a cell, and it is directly responsible for the ageing process.

According to a long-standing hypothesis, mutations in the mitochondrial genome limit mammalian lifespan. Recent studies have demonstrated that transgenic mice expressing the proofreading-deficient mitochondrial replicase POLG (POLG mitochondrial mutator mice) are characterised by an increased rate of somatic point mutations in mtDNA and display a premature aging phenotype (Gmofmg; MRC; 1).

–> To read more on this topic follow the link in the reference section.

What other mysteries can we solve by investigating this organelle and the processes it is responsible for? Can we actually become superheroes by genetically engineering ourselves? and if so how much time will it take us? Or maybe we could slow down the ageing process.

References:

Aerobic Respiration 

Energy conversion: Mitochondria and Chloroplasts

(MFC; O.S.; 1,2) = Mitochondria Fuel Cells, written by Ovidiu Sandru, Paragraphs one and two.

(Bbbocpp; L.K.B.; 1,2), (Bbbocpp; L.K.B.; 3) = Bio battery based on cellular power plant, by Leigh Krietsch Boerner, Paragraphs one, two and three

(Mmmtaec; BSCB; 7,8) = Mitochondrion, Much more than an energy converter, British Society for Cell Biology, Paragraphs seven and eight

(Gmofmg; MRC; 1) = Genetical modification of the mitochondrial genome, Medical Research Council, Paragraph one

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