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December 11, 1972

The Mystery of the Mitochondria

JAMA. 1972;222(11):1422. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03210110056017

Human pride received several severe jolts during the past few centuries. In 1543 Copernicus shook the world by his discovery that the earth circles around the sun and not vice versa, as had been previously thought. No longer the center of the universe, the earth was reduced to the status of a planet. Some 300 years later Darwin did away with the anthropocentric view of man, and half a century after him, stressing the instinctual deterministic aspects of human behavior, Freud undermined the concept of free will.

The coup de grâce is currently administered by the widely held view that mitochondria, are derived from bacteria engulfed more than a billion years ago by nucleated cells. Leading a semiautonomous existence within the cell, mitochondria bear a remarkable resemblance to bacteria. Their DNA and RNA, which replicate independently of nuclear DNA and RNA, as well as their independent protein synthesis system are