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Guest Lecture - Maggie Werner-Washburne

Jennifer Piarowski

Maggie Werner-Washburne, PhD professor, instructor of the Bio 470 Biology: Innovations and Discoveries class at the University of New Mexico, presented the class with an inside journey of a cell. We were assigned to read three articles about the history of mitochondrial discovery, nuclear pore complex function and structure, and the compartmentalization of the nucleus in order to prepare for the class discussion on Monday, March 5, 2012. Maggie presented five different subsections of biology and various mechanisms of each that have been employed to further understanding of that subsection; Cell Biology, Biochemistry, genomics, Genetics, and Molecular Biology. The main concept to take away from the presentation of information on these various subsections is that most of the discoveries have been delegated by technological advancements.

Maggie asked us to think about what it was we know about the mitochondria structure and functions. Many people seemed to have generic image in their head of a mitochondria shaped like a kidney bean with a squiggly inner chamber completely isolated from itself; i.e. none of the inner membrane walls touch each other. Maggie then had us close our eyes and imagine we were inside of a cell. We were to imagine we were 10 nm in size. We found our way into the cytoplasm and came across a mitochondria. In relation to our "size", the mitochondria would be 100 times larger than us, or the length of one and a half football fields and a height of at least half of a football field. It was surprising to think that a mitochondria would be that large in comparison to a protein, which is what we were close to in size.

Once inside the mitochondria, Maggie informed us that there is flow of proton ions through pores in the wall of the mitochondria out into the cytoplasm due to a concentration gradient difference. She began to quiz us about how the protons were kept inside of the mitochondria, because we knew there had to be some function retaining protons otherwise the mitochondrial matrix and the cytoplasm would be in equilibrium in regards to the proton concentration. Suggestions were made and the most reasonable suggestion is that the walls of the cristae must come together in some way to form internal bags which house proteins.

Maggie felt it was important to have us imagine ourselves at the level of the cell in order to see things on a minute enough scale to see issues and realities. The mitochondria has been discovered to be associated with many diseases and ailments. In order to find solutions within the mitochondria causing these issues, it is important for a scientist to be able to see and think on the scale of the mitochondria. This concept of taking your thoughts down to the same size as your subject can be useful in any thought process as it allows you to see and process things differently than you would were you to only "see" the circumstance from afar.


  1. What kind of research is being done to discover which ailments are cause by mitochondrial dysfunction?
  2. Are there more societies more susceptible to mitochondrial disease?
  3. What could be the cause of mitochondrial dysfunction that leads to disease?

Future Research:

  1. Discover ways to identify definitely whether mitochondria dysfunction is the cause of an ailment.
  2. Research ways to better view the processes of a mitochondria.
  3. Research the causes of mitochondrial dysfunction and prevention.