This review examines the place of mitochondria in the life cycle through oogenesis, ovulation and early embryogenesis. Mitochondria are semi-autonomous organelles responsible for the bulk of oxidative energy production in the body. They play central roles in ageing, in apoptosis and in many non-Mendelian-inherited bioenergetic and neurological diseases. Originating as free alpha-proteobacteria that entered into a symbiotic relationship with the ancestral eukaryotic organisms, they now have a highly restricted genome of ~16 kb, encoding for 37 genes of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway. Mitochondria are inherited through the mother and special mechanisms have evolved to eliminate the contribution of the spermatozoon in early embryonic development. Most mitochondrial genes have become translocated to the nucleus, and nuclear and mitochondrial genes have co-evolved. This, coupled with a high mutation rate in the remaining mitochondrial DNA, has resulted in a high degree of concordance between them. Disharmony between nuclear and mitochondrial genes is thus likely to complicate cloning technology and the experimental reconstruction of chimeric embryos by cytoplasmic or nuclear transfer.