Project Wonder - The art of science at the Medical College of Wisconsin

Mitochondria Networks

Mitochondria play a central role in high school biology curricula as the engine fueling the life cycle of individual cells and, ultimately our tissues, organ systems and bodies. Perhaps less well known is the way mitochondria form dynamic networks with each other, able to change their size, shape and level of connectivity with other mitochondria to adapt to the ever-changing energy demands of the cell. In fact, mitochondria often combine into a single, larger organelle in a process called fusion, or split into two smaller organelles, which is known as fission.

Ugochukwu Ihenacho, a doctoral student in the lab of Blake Hill, PhD, professor of biochemistry, studies a protein called Fis1 that plays a role in mitochondrial fission. He focuses on how this protein influences mitochondrial fission and how it may be influenced by mutations in genes that govern mitochondrial fusion and fission and have been connected to diseases of the nervous system.

Ihenacho recently won the graduate student category in the MCW Postdoc Advisory Committee’s competition seeking the best scientific images created by MCW graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. His image captures mitochondria elongated after being deprived of nutrients in a sample of colorectal cancer cells.

Research and imaging by Ugochukwu Ihenacho
Animation and sound design by Alex Boyes

Image key:
Purple: nuclei (DAPI stain)
Cyan: lipid droplets (oil-red O stain)
Sepia: mitochondria networks (TOM20 stain)