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Mitochondria are semi-autonomous organelles essential for cellular function responding to tissue and developmental demands in almost all eukaryotic cells. As the majority of the mitochondrial proteome is nuclear encoded, proteins and macromolecules must first be imported and assembled correctly to function. The Murcha Group’s research focuses on these import pathways and the factors that regulate these processes throughout plant development and stress. Monika Murcha is an ARC Future Fellow affiliated with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. Her research utilises a variety of cutting edge molecular and biochemical techniques to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate mitochondrial biogenesis, underlying cellular activity, plant growth and responses to stress. 

Understanding the regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis: We have uncovered a plant specific molecular link between the mitochondrial import apparatus, TIM17:23 complex and the respiratory chain complex I. This interaction via the sharing of a single subunit is an elegant mechanism to co-ordinate mitochondrial activity and biogenesis. By utilising this model, a forward genetic approach is being utilised to identify the factors that regulate mitochondrial activity and function. This will uncover novel specific master regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis and provide targets for manipulation to alter plant development and biomass. 

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Mitochondrial import of macromolecules: Here we have identified a novel outer membrane receptor that is involved in the import of tRNA molecules into mitochondria. This is the first account of a putative tRNA import component in plants and thus is a major target for the regulation and biogenesis of mitochondria via altering tRNA import rates and specificity. The mechanisms of targeting and translocation will be investigated and by the modification of this receptor and subsequent analysis of changes to mitochondrial activity and function.

This project will provide new targets for the delivery of macromolecules to mitochondria.

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