Muting Questions #5 – Are the things we know really true?? – An eukaryote without mitochondria

Like I said in the “The difficulty of understanding Nature” post, in our daily life we keep judging and evaluating things we experience according to our cultural and ethical education. This can become a problem when we study Nature and especially if you’re a scientist.

Another very common intricacy, linked maybe more to how our brain works than to our cultural influence, is to conceive an idea correct just because, for a long time, nobody found a proof of the opposite. People are lazy, we know it. We are too lazy to check evidence for stuff that we read on the web, we’re too lazy to change our mind on something if we find out that maybe it was incorrect, someone is even too lazy to read the facts in the first place, sticking to what he/she is convinced.

I know it’s hard. Every time we meet a new topic, idea or study we have to accept that maybe one day that topic, idea or study could be disproven. Most people don’t, even scientist, because it’s hard. It’s comfortable to think that once you’ve studied something, that will stay the same for the rest of your life. And most topics actually do, but we have always to be ready to change our minds.

In the history of science big changes happened a lot, in all kind of areas; and every time it was super difficult to accept that the new idea would disprove or replace the old one. Accepting something for a true fact without checking the evidences is madness, but accepting something because you’ve heard it a lot can be even more dangerous. Hearing something you already know reinforce the idea in your mind that it’s correct. That’s actually how we mostly learn: repeating things. But the same process can be dangerous if things are repeated without a reason, or if things are said without proof.

This leads both to do things we think are correct based on absolutely no reason and to learn wrong ideas because we haven’t heard anything against it for a while.

A supreme example of the latter happened very recently in my field, where they found an exception to a previously-considered fundamental idea that all eukaryotes have mitochondria.

Eukaryotes are organisms characterized by an organized cell. It means that it’s divided in separated organelles inside the cell to allow compartmentalization of functions and optimization of efficiencies. Mitochondria as you probably remember from high school is the “powerhouse of the cell”, i.e. the organelle responsible to produce most of the energy used by the cell. It has been considered one of the most conserved feature of eukaryotic cells because we think that they come from an ancient collaboration between cells. Every known eukaryotic organism has mitochondria and depend totally or partially on them for energy production.

Well guess what? We found one exception!! In this paper:

eukaryote without mitochondria

We can see that Monocercomonoides sp. is the first eukaryotic organism known to be without mitochondria. This completely crushed the idea that eukaryotes can’t be thought without such an organelle, and opens a direction of study suggesting that alternative method for producing energy can be equally successful. The idea that eukaryotic cells can survive without mitochondria challenges most widely-spread common sense; it will have even to change science books!

Again in the history of science, an idea that became true just because we didn’t find an evidence that said it was wrong, finally was proven wrong. Before saying things or acting upon your convictions try to check and question them! In the meantime let me tell you another story..


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