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If you took Biology in high school then you might remember mitochondria – organelles that perform the vital function of providing energy to the cell, among other things, so that it can perform its activities. You may also remember that they were considered an essential part of every cell. That was true until the discovery o f a new eukaryote (a complex cell) called Monocercomonoides.
This eukaryotic cell comes from the gut of chinchilla (a rodent) and was discovered by a team of scientists working in Canada and Czech Republic. This discovery sheds a new light on how complex cells can survive without mitochondria and can rely on other means to generate the energy that they need. Perhaps what’s more surprising is the fact that the ancestors of Monocercomonoides had small mitochondria but this cell doesn’t have any trace of it whatsoever.
So how does it perform the functions (like assembling iron-sulfur clusters to build some proteins ) for which a mitochondria is famous for? The scientists don’t know for sure but the popular hypothesis is that it uses some bacterial genes to do what mitochondria do in other complex cells.
This is something which is truly unprecedented. It was impossible to think of a cell without a mitochondria. This is the first case of an eukaryote not depending on mitochondria. —Anna Karnkowska, team leader, University of British Columbia
It is not the first time that such a case was reported. Before the discovery of Monocercomonoides, scientists claimed that Giardia – a human gut parasite – behaved similarly. However, it was later found that this particular eukaryote had mitochondria remnants which performed the same function.
This new discovery is nothing short of incredible: it has the potential to revolutionize our understanding our eukaryotic cells which, in turn, could expand our knowledge of the evolutionary biology.