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Entries in midichlorians (1)

Monday
Dec122011

Midichlorians are real (now)

This blood test proves it: the Phantom Menace sucksOne of the hundreds of disappointments in the prequels is the concept of midichlorians. In the original trilogy the Force was left largely unexplained, but its treatment gave the audience the sense that it was available to all, like salvation in the Catholic tradition.

Then came the prequels, in which we learned that Force sensitivity was determined by a fluke of genetics: whether you had what it takes to become a Jedi now depended on how many midichlorians lived in your cells. A simple blood test would show whether you had what it takes to be a Jedi. With this the Jedi became a sort of Aryan race of superhumans, or the elect in Calvinist christianity, predestined to salvation. The result (in my mind at least) was that it became a lot harder to see heroism in the Jedi--they were just freaks of nature, after all. But the creation of LucasArts videogames was no doubt greatly facilitated by this innovation ("How many midichlorian points does your character have?") and that seems to be what matters to George Lucas these days.

Midicholians were, of course, fictional when the prequels introduced them. Yet in 2004 some nerd scientist named a discovery after them. From Wikipedia:

Midichloria is a genus of Gram-negative, non-sporeforming, bacteria, with bacillus shape of ~ 0.45 µm in diameter and ~1.2 µm in length. First described in 2004 with the temporary name IricES1[1], Midichloria are symbionts of the hard tick Ixodes ricinus. They live in the cells of the ovary of the females of this tick species. These bacteria have been observed in the mitochondria of the host cells[2], a trait that has never been described in any other symbiont of animals. Midichloria bacteria seem to consume the mitochondria they parasite, possibly using them as a source of energy and/or molecules to multiply. The interaction of these symbionts with their host is currently unknown, though the 100% prevalence in the females of the host tick seems to suggest a mutualistic association[3].

...

The name of this bacterial genus, Midichloria (mi.di.chlo’ria. N.L. fem. n.) is derived from the midi-chlorians, a microscopic life form from the fictional Star Wars universe.

Today's Asian Scientist reports on a recent study shedding light on the origin of these bacteria and their role in evolution:

A new study, published in this month’s issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution, has revealed that mitochondria may have entered our cells through a parasitic bacterium that used a tail to swim and could survive with almost no oxygen. This finding sheds new light on a process recognized as one of the major transitions in the history of life on Earth and challenges traditional explanations that the ancestors of mitochondria were passive bacteria engulfed by a primordial cell between one and a half and two billion years ago.

Asian Scientist: Star-Wars-Inspired Midichlorian Bacterium Offers Glimpse Into Origin of Life