Mitochondria are not often associated with fighting life-threatening diseases. As humans learn more about the importance of their mitochondria, there is a growing breadth of evidence just how vital they are to life.
The constant battle between disease-causing bacteria and our immune system has driven modern medicine for decades. The to-and-fro of this relationship has resulted in some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs (penicillin anyone?). It seems no matter how clever we get, bacteria find a way to morph and come back again, challenging our immune systems to find a way to mitigate the threat.
One particularly nasty bacterium that has evolved from this process is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
MRSA is very common in schools and healthcare environments and has been known to cause life-threatening infections. So, Michigan Medicine researchers decided to take a closer look at how our immune system deals with these dangerous little bacteria. What they saw was rather surprising indeed.
It turns out the Mitochondria (our personal favourite organelles) perform some incredible acts to provide our immune system with a powerful punch against MRSA.
This powerful little punch is called reactive oxygen species (or “ROS”) and is the very by-product of creating energy. ROS are the very same free-radicals that can also damage our own cells. In the presence of MRSA, the Mitochondria deploy a higher amount of ROS to fight the bacteria. Even more interestingly, it appears the Mitochondria can communicate with other parts of the cell to deliver the ROS in a very targeted way directly to the MRSA. Rather than just flooding the cell with ROS causing major damage to the rest of the cell (oxidative stress), the Mitochondria can deliver the ROS like a right hook, directly to the face of the MRSA bacteria. Pretty clever we reckon.
Here’s the full article published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe