Don’t forget to feed and walk your mitochondria

Yes, I’m still here – though I don’t know if any of YOU are.

The pay at my job is somewhat low for the skillset it requires, but makes up for that by having a very reasonable workload, a pleasant work environment, and certain perks – like access to the electronic journals that my employer subscribes to. I added an RSS feed from pubmed intended to cover my main interests – basically edible and industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Every day, a list of 300-600 or so new scientific articles pops up in my feedreader and I scan through the titles looking for anything interesting to me. Unintentionally, my selection appears to also result in quite a bit of diabetes, obesity, and sports medicine research. Lately I’ve taken a moderate interest in our own most blatantly bacterial components, the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are kind of like a nearly 2-billion-year-long case of typhus (or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, if you prefer). After infecting our ancestors (and now us) for so long, they’ve been reduced to dependency on living in our cells. Perhaps a bit like the progression from wolves to Chinese Crested dogs. On the other hand, having thoroughly domesticated them, we get a lot of use out of them, and couldn’t live without them. Their ability to harness the electron-sucking power of oxygen means we get almost 20 times more energy out of our food than we otherwise would, which is a good thing since biologically speaking, keeping the hideously complicated mess of biochemistry that makes up a human body takes a ridiculous amount of biochemical energy compared to that of normal organisms (i.e. prokaryotes).

Lately in the stream of new publications I’ve been seeing a number of papers suggesting that a lack of proper mitochondrial activity might be related to obesity and related problems (e.g. “metabolic syndrome”, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, obesity-related “inflammation”, and so on) and even some age-related problems, both physical and mental. There is some seriously interesting research going on into treatments to potentially stimulate mitochondrial activity and whether this might help solve a number of health problems.

So…take good care of your mitochondria. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to pay special attention to properly feeding my mitochondria and making sure I take them for regular walks (and paddling trips and so on). It could, of course, be purely psychosomatic, but right now I feel better than James Brown

There’s a fair amount of rational skepticism over using drugs or nutritional supplements to stimulate mitochondria, but here’s a tip that I suspect everyone’s doctor would accept: make sure you take your mitochondria for regular walks. Frequent exercise (particularly endurance exercise) seems to be a scientifically well-accepted way to induce production of more mitochondria.

But now I have to go to bed. My main complaint with work these days is that it eats up essentially my entire day, leaving me with just enough time for some household chores between getting up in the morning and going to bed in the evening. Not their fault I live almost and hour and a half from work, though (and at least the commute is through relatively low-traffic and scenic terrain.). Still, it makes it hard to get blog posts and podcasts done (episode 4, on the subject of “heat-fixing” of bacteria for microscopy – particularly Mycobacterium tuberculosis – will be out as soon as I can manage. Still pondering the subject of Episode 5. I’m saving the “Two Mass Spectrometers, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and a Female Donkey” episode for later when I manage to surpass the “nearly 3” listeners that I seem to be stuck at…)

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The Author is (currently) an autodidactic student of Industrial and Environmental microbiology, who is sick of people assuming all microbiology should be medical in nature, and who would really like to be allowed to go to graduate school one of these days now that he's finished his BS in Microbiology (with a bonus AS in Chemistry). He also enjoys exploring the Big Room (the one with the really high blue ceiling and big light that tracks from one side to the other every day) and looking at its contents from unusual mental angles.

9 thoughts on “Don’t forget to feed and walk your mitochondria”

  1. Good stuff, Epicanis. Obviously, you grasp concepts that the rest of us are incomprehensible and use James Brown to help us understand. I take the same approach with my customers, aka users.

    Just curious, are you familar with Michael Behe? The atheists crucify him, of course, but OTOH, he seems to make some very valid points that a microbiologist could either say are true or shoot down.

  2. Well, if the concepts are STILL incomprehensible then obviously I need to work on my posts more (which is probably true)…

    As for Behe – I’m only “familiar” in the sense that I know the name and have a general sense of the kind of arguments he puts forth…and that I don’t think I want to touch the topic with someone else’s 10-foot pole. I’ve been on the internet long enough to see that the whole thing is an anti-productive tarpit. Once one steps in it, it gets all over everything and nobody gets anything else done. As far as I can tell, the only people who willingly step in it are people determined to defend their tribe’s intellectual customs to the end no matter what happens, and a few poor saps who wade in to try to get people to stop throwing tar at them.

    Or in short – a fundamental rule of surviving on the internet is “don’t feed the trolls”, and this subject is virtually made of trolls.

    Doubly so here, where I’m largely interested in applied science, and once you start mixing the natural with the supernatural[1], application goes right out the window and you end up wasting your time arguing over e.g. how many angels can dance on a Top Quark. (“Stupid dork! There’s no such thing as angels!” “Burn in Hell, atheist! The answer’s 12!”) Even less “application” than trying to figure out the last digit of pi. (It’s “3”, by the way.)

    [1] I was going to say something about it being like mixing steak and ice cream, but I’m actually reasonably competent with flavors and I could probably actually make something pretty palatable out of that combination…

    P.S. What? Still on the pre-3.5 Firefox? (Karmic Koala will at least have it, won’t it? I know there’s a PPA you can get it from for older releases of Ubuntu…)

  3. Wise idea. Regarding upgrades of software, I’m sitting tight until 9.10, then stopping the upgrades (on this vintage 2006 box). Karmic is an LTR, and I’m getting too old to redo the old O/S every six months ;-).

    However, my NEXT machine, now that’s a different matter 😀

  4. I stick with Gentoo and Arch for the “rolling release” approach – then I never have to worry about having to make radical changes to upgrade to the “next” version.

  5. Lot of merit in that. I tried other distros on my GX620 at work for that reason, but I went back to Ubuntu because it handled my ATI card natively. CentOS and Mepis required the driver from ATI, which would prevent x from starting after a reboot 🙁

    Also, I was corrected on the desktop Linux shot-foot thread on CW: it’s the 10.9 release of Ubuntu that’s LTR. D’OH!

  6. Hmmm, that raises an interesting (for certain kinds of minds) philosophical question. Of course, I meant here, as in on this blog. But is it reasonable to model a blog as a “place”?

    I’ve come to realize that I actually model filesystems and networks in my head as physical places.

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