Molecular Thermobiology of Mitochondria (TherMit)

Mitochondria are the key components of our cells that are involved in energy conversion processes. Essentially, they turn chemical energy from food sources into forms useful for the cell, via a controlled combustion process, in many ways analogous to a fuel-burning engine of a motor car. Since such processes are never 100% efficient, a proportion of the energy is always released as heat. Cells and organisms must therefore handle the consequences of variable heat production, but they can also use biologically generated heat to facilitate or regulate specific processes that are heat-dependent. Recently, together with a team of international collaborators, I showed that active mitochondria within human cells are maintained at a much higher temperature than their surroundings, typically close to 50 °C.

In this project we will explore some of the ramifications of this finding for cellular functions, in particular in regard to health and disease.