The Povelones Lab uses single-celled eukaryotic parasites as model organisms to study mitochondria. Mitochondria are membrane-bound organelles that play a central role in a number of metabolic pathways. Mitochondrial pathways are regulated according to the cell’s energy needs, and these functional changes can be accompanied by alterations in mitochondrial shape.
Kinetoplastid parasites such as Trypanosoma brucei and Crithidia fasciculata diverged early from the main eukaryotic lineage, and provide a unique evolutionary perspective on mitochondrial structure and function. Unusually, each cell has only a single mitochondrion, which changes dramatically depending on the life cycle stage of the parasite. T. brucei procyclic form (PCF) cells, which reside in the midgut of the tsetse fly vector, have a highly branched mitochondrial network. In contrast, the bloodstream form (BSF) of the parasite has an unbranched tubular mitochondrion. The structural and regulatory proteins that mediate this transition are largely unknown.