Midichloria mitochondrii
Amanda Sutterer

Star Wars fanatics everywhere rejoice! Turns out the basis of Jedi powers –the midichlorians—are real. Of course the bad news is that Jedi’s can only be ticks, and female ticks at that. George Lucas dreamed up midichlorians as intracellular organisms found in every cell of living things that communicated with each other. The real “midichlorians” are actually Midichloria midochondrii, an intracellular organism found only between the inner and outer membrane of the mitochondria of female Ixodes ricinus ticks’ ovaries. Somehow I don’t see a multi-billion dollar franchise emerging from this one.

The discovery of M. midochondrii seems to be guided by a series of well placed events (hmm, the Force?). While researching human pathogens in the Lyme disease causing tick Ixodes ricinus in 2003/04, Australian postdoc Nate Lo noticed an unusual 16s rRNA sequence in his PCR reactions. Scientists in his group began searching for the bacterium that contained this sequence and eventually found that this species inhabits the space between the inner and outer membranes of the mitochondria of ovarian cells in a female tick.

M. midochondrii is a gram negative, non motile, and non spore forming bacteria. It is the only bacteria as of December 2006 to be described as an endosymbiote of a mitochondria. The relationship between the tick and the bacteria is still unclear, although research is persisting to discover more about this organism. It doesn’t seem to harm the tick at all, though it does feed off the mitochondria, presumably for the energy, especially noting that ATP energy is produced in the electron transport chain between the two membranes of the mitochondria. Eventually the bacteria eats all that it can, leaving the mitochondria and empty sac.

No uses are known yet for the M. midochondrii, though Star Wars fanatics may hope that it one day justifies their belief in Jedi powers. As this is a newly discovered microbe, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and uses of this little bug. However, I doubt that people will be utilizing it to perform Jedi mind tricks or yielding light sabers any time soon.

References

“Midichloria mitochondrii.” Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki,
http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Midichloria_mitochondrii

Martin, Shelby. “The Petri Dish: Not just in the movies anymore.” The Stanford Daily Online. Feb 1, 2007.
http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/2/1/thePetriDishNotJustInTheMoviesAnymore

“A Novel Alpha-Proteobacterium Resides in the Mitochondria of Ovarian Cells of the Tick Ixodes ricinus.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology, May 2004, p. 2596-2602, Vol. 70, No. 5.
http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/5/2596

Pincock, Stephen. “Use the force, bacteria.” The Scientist. Vol. 20, Issue 12, pg 20. March 2007
http://www.the-scientist.com/article/home/36660/

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.

 

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