There are tiny power stations inside millions of our cells. Mitochondria release energy used to fuel life – everything from building new cells to powering heartbeats – so faults can create huge problems. In the two slices of heart tissue on the left, mitochondria appear like flat black blobs. Using a technique called 3D electron tomography, researchers extracted their shapes into brightly-coloured 3D computer models (right). The heart on the bottom row is overloaded with fat molecules called lipids – its mangled mitochondria cannot release energy as efficiently as the healthy heart at the top. This may answer a big question about heart disease. The hearts of those suffering from diabetes or obesity often contain more fatty molecules. The effect of lipotoxicity on mitochondria may crush the heart’s energy supply, increasing the risk of heart failure. Future treatments may aim to stop fats attacking our tiny powerhouses.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.