Mitochondria are the organelles in the interior of cells that extract energy from nutrients, among other functions and convert it into a form that can be used by the cell for its vital processes.
The discovery confirms the model proposed by the team in 2008 to account for observations that could not be explained by the established model of mitochondrial function.
The consumption, digestion and assimilation of nutrients serves the ultimate purpose of fueling each and every cell in the body. The breakdown of nutrients in the digestive tract requires energy to release simple compounds from larger components: glucose from sugars and carbohydrates, amino acids from proteins, and fatty acids from fat.
These breakdown products can enter cells and be processed in the mitochondria to release much larger quantities of utilizible energy. According to Dr. Enríquez, lead investigator on the study, "Understanding how cells generate energy is fundamental to understanding living systems, and for much of the last century this was a primary object of studies in biochemistry.
By the beginning of the 80s the mystery of how mitochondria achieve this task was thought to be solved, and in the 90s the molecular structures responsible were resolved in incredible detail. This was considered to be one of the best understood processes in the cell."