Mitochondria are elements that reside within the cells. They process food and convert the energy from it into a form acceptable to cells to use.
Mitochondria have their own DNA though in a small amount while most DNA is cocooned in chromosomes within the nucleus. Such genetic materials like mitochondria with their own DNA are known as mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA. About 16,500 DNA building blocks or base pairs are covered by mitochondrial DNA in humans. This represents a mere fraction of the total DNA contained in cells.
Mitochondria are usually inherited solely from the mother in sexually reproducing organisms. In mammalian sperm the mitochondria are usually destroyed post-fertilization by the egg cell. The part of the sperm where most mitochondria are present is in the tail. The tail of the sperm is its means of propulsion of sperm cells. Sometimes during fertilization the tail becomes detached. Since mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the female or mother, researchers are able to trace the maternal line far back in time. In humans this is achieved by arranging in sequences one or more of the hyper variable control regions of the mitochondrial DNA. Hypervariable HVR1 consists of about 440 base pairs. These 440 base pairs are then compared with similar control regions of specific people in a database to determine the maternal line.
Mitochondrial DNA has been reported as being inherited from the father. But these are in lower orders like flies, insects and honey bees. Isolated instances have been noticed in some mammals where the mitochondria were eventually rejected.
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