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Guest Lecture - Maggie Werner-Washburne

Terrill Yazzie

Dr. Werner-Washburne presented an overview of the cell that included the historical implications each discovery on mitochondria had in other areas of biology. The area of cell biology started with the observations done with the microscope; during this time there was improvement on the techonolgy of microscopy. With the development of atomic weapons, radioisotopes originated and were utilized as chemical markers in biochemistry that help identify DNA as the source of cellular information. This area of biology also applied the techniques of gel electrophoresis and improved on centrifugation. The area of genetics was concentrated on answering the question: what genes result in certain phenotypes? The acknowledgement of genes as the precursor of physical traits led to genomics and developed another question: What do all the genes do? In the area of molecular biology, restriction enzymes and gene deletions were the target of research. Next we focused on mitochondria and its 5 complexes in the areas of complex enzyme inhibitor, nuclear DNA subunits, and mitochondrial DNA subunits.

This overview led to an imagination exercise where we closed our eyes and took a trip into the cell and the mitochondrion. Dr. Werner-Washburne had one important message before the exercise which was, "What you see is not all that is there." With this in mind, Dr. Werner-Washburne presented a problem associated with mitchondria about how protons are maintained in the inter-membrane space of the mitochondrion. Based on our previous exposure to text book dipictions, the class had forgetten how fluid the cell strucure and organelles are. The solution lay in the involvement of weak interactions that resulted in the cristae changing shape to house the needed electrons. Next we looked at the Gibbs free energy equation from a strictly quantitative and a real world aspect. When looking at the equation in real world thought, Dr. Werner-Washburne explain how variable the products and reactants are of a cell that allows small changes in the microenvironment cause big changes-a reason why eukaryotic cells are successful.

3 Questions

  1. Why is the characteristic of the cristae not presented as part of the information relevant when studying mitochondria?
  2. Is the shape of mitochondria, such as the oblong and circular formation, attributed to the concentration of ions in the inter-membrane space?
  3. Does the concentration of ATP affect the shape of mitochondria?

3 Future directions

  1. Identifying the genes that contribute to mitochondrial phenotypes, which could shed light on the source of parental mtDNA, and challenge the doctrine of mitochondria only being passed only by the mother.
  2. Since mitochondria is considered as an ancient bacteria, there should be an initiative to create a culture medium that can sustain and grow these cell bound organelles for further research and genomics.
  3. Create a virtual reality class that utilizes the technology to study and experience the cell. This type of instruction can help foster imagination and creativity while studying the organelles; along with their structure and function.