Background: The mitochondrial respiratory chain produces metabolic energy by oxidative phosphorylation. Biogenesis of the respiratory chain requires the coordinated expression of two genomes: the nuclear genome encoding the vast majority of mitochondrial proteins, and the mitochondrial genome encoding a handful of mitochondrial proteins. The understanding of the molecular processes contributing to respiratory chain assembly and maintenance requires the systematic identification and functional analysis of the genes involved.
Results: We pursued a systematic, genome-wide approach to define the sets of genes required for respiratory activity and maintenance and expression of the mitochondrial genome in yeast. By comparative gene deletion analysis we found an unexpected phenotypic plasticity among respiratory-deficient mutants, and we identified ten previously uncharacterized genes essential for respiratory growth (RRG1 through RRG10). Systematic functional analysis of 319 respiratory-deficient mutants revealed 16 genes essential for maintenance of the mitochondrial genome, 88 genes required for mitochondrial protein translation, and 10 genes required for expression of specific mitochondrial gene products. A group of mutants acquiring irreversible damage compromising respiratory capacity includes strains defective in assembly of the cytochrome c oxidase that were found to be particularly sensitive to aging.
Conclusions: These data advance the understanding of the molecular processes contributing to maintenance of the mitochondrial genome, mitochondrial protein translation, and assembly of the respiratory chain. They revealed a number of previously uncharacterized components, and provide a comprehensive picture of the molecular processes required for respiratory activity in a simple eukaryotic cell.