“The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” The common phrase used to teach biology classes has recently been used to criticize public education priorities, most recently through a series of memes.
Are these phrases useless factoids that should be traded for arguably more valuable lessons, such as how to do taxes or fix a car? This question can be indicative of a larger question about publicly funded education and curriculum, but I will only focus on the mitochondria question here.
So, is something like basic cellular biology important to teach students? Absolutely. Although many of us may not go on to study biology or become researchers ourselves, the information is not going to go away or be merely an intellectual earworm.
Specifically speaking of the mitochondrion, it has other purposes than generating cellular power. The mitochondrion is interesting because it resembles a bacterium inside of a human cell. Its interactions with the larger cell body are fascinating to study to discover how bacteria and animal cells interact.
Mitochondrial DNA is also found within the organelle and is passed on through the mother. It can be used to trace ancestors and discover potential genetic defects. If you ever wanted to learn more about your family or what kinds of health issues you may be prone to, mitochondrial DNA can be an important key.
Finally, technology and medicine will only continue to advance. Healthcare is a growing field, especially with our aging population. With an increased need for healthcare professionals and the advancement of medical knowledge, there should be no excuse why anyone employed in a healthcare organization doesn’t know that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
So let’s not be like the snobby astronomers who thumbed their noses at Pluto and removed its planetary status, let’s appreciate our mitochondria. Or maybe one day we’ll wake up and the mitochondria won’t be an organelle anymore and we’ll all be devastated.