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Real-Life Midi-Chlorians

In the immensely popular Star Wars film series and franchise, creator George Lucas introduced us to midi-chlorians. These infinitesimal yet intelligent life forms live inside the cells of all other life forms, and in not so many words, give a Jedi the power to be a Jedi, due to the abnormally high level of midi-chlorians present in them.

In 2004, researcher Dr Nathan Lo, while at the University of Milan, discovered a parasitic bacterium (originally named IricES1) that lives inside the mitochondria of ovarian cells of the female hard tick, Ixodes ricinus. ‘IricES1’ may classify as a strong password candidate for your gmail account, but doesn’t cut it as a cool name for a bacterium. Dr Lo smartly came up with the idea to name the bacterium after the fictional midi-chlorians and was able to get permission from Star Wars creator, George Lucas. The species was successfully renamed to Midichloria mitochondrii in 2006.

To further support their namesake, Midichloria bacteria consume the mitochondria they parasitize, perhaps deriving a source of energy. And, while it is still unknown what benefit(s) the host receives from this relationship, given the 100% prevalence of the bacterium in the host cells, it is likely that there is one.

In 2011, again led by Dr Lo, researchers successfully sequenced the genome of M. mitochondrii. In doing so, the scientists have come closer to learning how mitochondria entered our cells and how life evolved two billion years ago.



Author: Sean McCall is the Web Content and Social Media Coordinator at IDT.