What Does the Mitochondria Do?
When you say the word “mitochondria”, you’re looking at the plural form of the word. The singular form is “mitochondrion”. Whenever you see those, don’t be confused or think you’re looking at a different word.
It’s just the singular and plural forms. First, let’s talk about the structure of mitochondria, and then we’ll talk about its functions. The structure of a mitochondria. If you see it floating around in the cytoplasm, it kind of looks like a jelly bean.
If you can see a cross cut out of it, then you’re going to see this little squiggly membrane going through the middle there. Let’s look at what each part of the mitochondria is. This outer layer that you can see is called the “outer membrane”.
Next, this space in here between the outer membrane and this next line is called the “intermembrane space”. Then, this next line is the inner membrane. That makes sense, right? You’ve got your outer membrane, your inner membrane, and then the space between it is just the intermembrane space.
Outer, inner membrane, intermembrane space, the space between the two. Next, you’ve got the space created through all these little zigzag patterns of the inner membrane and the spaces that are created here, and in there, and down in here between where it zigs and zags.
You’ve got that space between each little fold. That is called the “cristae”. Last, but not least, everything inside that inner membrane is called the “matrix”. There you’ve got your structure of the mitochondrion and the basic parts of it.
It’s important to know that they’re found in nearly all eukaryotic cells. That’s not all, but most eukaryotic cells. That’s going to be your larger cells, the ones you find in plants and animals. Within the cell, it’s going to be found in the cytoplasm.
You will see mitochondria floating around in the cytoplasm. You could have one, or you could have lots of mitochondria. It kind of depends on how big the cell is.
The basic structure is going to be outer membrane, intermembrane space, inner membrane, surrounding the matrix with the cristae forming in the folds between that inner membrane. Let’s look at the functions. Mitochondria produce adenosine triphosphate, which is known as ATP.
If you see ATP, it’s an energy source, and it’s called adenosine triphosphate. A lot of times, this is not going to get all typed out. You’re just going to see ATP, because it’s a very common abbreviation in biology. Now, ATP is produced through cellular respiration, which is also known as “aerobic respiration”.
That’s because it involves oxygen. It’s basically the cell’s breathing cycle, where it gets to take in oxygen and use it. Aerobic respiration, or cellular respiration, are basically the same thing.
It just means- whoever’s typing or writing the paper or information you’re looking at may use “cellular” or “aerobic”. Basically, it’s going to refer to the cell taking in oxygen. Now, the set of reactions that produces ATP is known as the Krebs cycle.
The mitochondrion is involved in the Krebs cycle, because it goes through some of those reactions to produce ATP. The mitochondria are sometimes called “cellular power plants” or “powerhouses”, because they create the cell’s primary energy source, which is ATP.
Since they create the primary energy source that the cell has to use, they are called “cellular power plants”. They also can regulate the cell’s metabolism, and they are involved in cell division, cell growth, and cell death. All of these processes require energy.
Since the mitochondria is producing the primary source of energy, it makes sense that the mitochondria would be involved in a lot of these processes. It has a lot of important jobs, but the most important is going to be producing ATP, because that is the primary source of energy for the cell and the mitochondria is what produces it.
It’s very important to remember production of ATP, power plant of the cell for mitochondria, because that is what you’re mainly going to see it associated with. It can also do these other things (regulating metabolism, being involved in cell division, growth, and death), but the main thing to remember is producing ATP.
You’ve got your structures to remember: Outer membrane, intermembrane space (the space between the two membranes) inner membrane, cristae between those folds, and the matrix.
Remember that mitochondria are going to be found in eukaryotic cells, and they’re found in almost all eukaryotic cells, but not every single one. Most eukaryotic cells will have at least one, but they could have a lot of mitochondria.
You’re going to find them in the cytoplasm. Just remember, if you’re looking at a cell diagram you’re looking for that little jellybean shape. If you’re thinking about what does a mitochondria do, think about producing energy, producing ATP. The mitochondrion is your power plant of the cell.