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Guest Lecture - Maggie Werner-Washburne

Jason Kimble

Maggie's presentation on March 9th included a discussion predominately focused on the mitochondria and an imagination session into a cell. Before the class we were to have read three papers that corresponded to lecture. One of the papers was a review article that gave background information about the history of mitochondria and the other two papers addressed topics related to the nucleus of a cell. Maggie explained that compartmentalization is very important to eukaryotic cells and this topic corresponded to one of the background papers.

The lecture began with Maggie giving a historical account of how science progressed through the years and scientific tools that related to these advances. It was interesting to have an overview of how specific disciplines within biology developed. The images of freeze-etch proteins on a membrane developed into a discussion of how we need to think differently and critically when addressing scientific issues. Maggie went on to discuss how the genomics are playing a role in investigating the mitochondria and corresponding diseases associated with mitochondria that fail to function properly. There is a website called Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) that has information about anything we know about disease genes. On the website there are thousands of diseases related to mitochondria function. Often the diseases are syndromes that are not easily recognized. The mitochondria function is associated with programmed cell death, also know as apoptosis. This processes happens when cytochrome C is released from the the mitochondria.

Next we did an imagination section where we went into a yeast cell and investigated the mitochondria. Maggie wanted us to really try and use our imagination to break away from our traditional way of thinking about the mitochondria. For example, when most students think of what a mitochondria looks like they immediately picture a flat image from a text book. Furthermore, if you ask a student how a mitochondria works they will immediately repeat sentences from a textbook. They will site examples without ever really imaging what these processes look and feel like. So we imagined that we were 10nm in size and that we traveled into a 5 micrometer sized yeast cell. We were asked to imagine what it would be like to cross the plasma membrane, as well as imagine what it would feel like and what we might hear. Next we visualized what processes were occurring in the cell and what we might see related to those processes. Then the focus was on the mitochondria, such as how a proton gradient is established and what it would feel like. The class did not really reach a consensus on what these processes would really be like and then we moved on to discussing other topics.

Next Maggie discussed the importance of Gibb's free energy and why it works. We also discussed aspects of ATP, basically the focus was on energetics in the cell.