Autophagy facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Autophagy diagram PLoS Biology
(A) Diagram of autophagy; (B) Electron micrograph of autophagic structures in the fatbody of a fruit fly larva; (C) Fluorescently labeled autophagosomes in liver cells of starved mice

Autophagy (which means "eating itself)), is one of the basic cell mechanisms. It allows the controlled breaking down of cell parts which do not work, or are not needed. The cell parts can then be recycled as required.

There are several ways this happens. Targeted cell parts may be isolated from the rest of the cell in an autophagosome (a double-membraned vesicle). The autophagosome fuses with lysosomes and the contents are broken down and recycled. In the extreme case of starvation, the breakdown of cellular components promotes cellular survival by maintaining cellular energy levels.

The name "autophagy" was coined by Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve in 1963. The identification of autophagy-related genes in yeast in the 1990s let researchers figure out the mechanisms of autophagy. This led to the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Japanese researcher Yoshinori Ohsumi.


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