Mitochondria are small complex structures which exist in every cell of the body (except red blood cells). The function of mitochondria is to convert energy from food into a form compatible with that which cells can use. The fluid that surrounds the nucleus is the home of the hundreds of thousands of mitochondria that each cell contains.
Mitrochondria also contain a small quantity of their own DNA. Most DNA is packaged in chromosomes within the nucleus. This genetic material is referred to as mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.
The process under which mitochondria perform their function of energy conversion is known as oxidative phophorylation. This creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the cells primary source of energy. The process entails the use of oxygen and simple sugars.
Mitochondria have other roles to perform in cellular activity. The self-destruction of cells, for example, is partially regulated by mitochondria. They are also essential for producing such substances as cholesterol and heme, a part of hemoglobin, the molecule responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood.
Mitochondrial DNA has 37 genes, all of which are essential to proper functioning. Of the 37, 13 furnish the necessary instructions for producing the enzymes used in oxidative phophorylation. The other 24 furnish instructions for producing enzymes called transfer RNAs and ribosomal RNAs. Chemically, these may be termed the cousins of DNA.
On the other hand, nuclear DNA is DNA housed within the nucleus. Nuclear DNA is passed sexually instead of matrilineally and encodes far more of the genome than mitochondrial DNA. Nuclear DNA is the DNA of significance in forensic science.
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