Biological Sciences grad student develops computer codes to measure, track mitochondria

Mitochondria are essential to human and animal life, but analyzing their ever-changing configurations through a microscope is a challenge. As they continually fuse and fragment, they affect how cells, and therefore bodies, work.

Studying the tube-shaped organelles that provide energy to cells has recently been made easier through the work of a Brock University graduate student. Andrew Valente, a student in the Department of Biological Sciences with an interest in computer coding, has developed a set of tools that researchers around the globe can freely access to better measure and understand the movements of mitochondrial networks.

“I use a lot of open source software,” he says. “I thought it would be a good idea to adopt open source code because then we can have everybody looking at it and verifying that it’s working correctly.”

In an open source software arrangement, anyone can study, modify and distribute software for any purpose, which encourages widespread collaboration and free, public use.

Valente, from Thorold, is studying the structure and movement of mitochondrial networks, and is developing methods to track them for his master’s program.

Valente and his MSc supervisor, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Jeff Stuart, are now collaborating with research teams in Italy and Germany, with several international students and postdoctoral fellows visiting Stuart’s lab to learn more about mitochondrial networks.

Mitochondria create most of the energy that the body needs in order to live and support the functioning of organs. More than 220 illnesses are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, according to MitoCanada.

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