What is mitochondrial DNA?

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Mitochondrial DNA is the genetic material that is composed of the mitochondria—the structure that is found inside the cells that works by converting food to energy into cells that the body uses. Mitochondria like most of the DNAs come with chromosomes inside the nucleus and as such they have their own DNA inside in small amounts.

Mitochondrial DNA explained

Humans have around 16,500 mitochondrial DNA which is a small amount of the overall DNA found in cells. Mitochondrial DNA has 37 genes and all of them are needed for the mitochondria to function well. 13 of the 37 genes give out the instructions on how to produce enzymes that are needed in oxidative phosphorylation.

Oxidative phosphorylation makes use of simple sugars as well as oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate, the primary energy source of a cell. The rest of the genes give out instructions of how to make molecules such as transfer RNA or tRNA and ribosomal RNA or rRNA. Both are cousins of the DNA. These RNAs aid in the assembly of the amino acids or the protein building blocks for them to become function proteins.

There are many medical conditions that stem from genetic conditions which in turn are due to some changes in certain mitochondrial genes.

For example, cancer is one of the medical conditions caused by changes in the mitochondrial genes. Somatic mutations are sometimes caused by mitochondrial genes. Somatic mutations happen in the DNA of some cells which are not usually passed on the succeeding generations.

These mutations are related to some kinds of cancers like colon, breast, stomach, kidney tumors and liver cancers. Other cancers related to mutations of the mitochondrial DNA are lymphoma or the cancer in the immune system cells as well as leukemia or cancer in the blood-forming tissues.