The analysis of the expression of oxidative phosphorylation genes in the liver during development reveals the existence of two biological programs involved in the biogenesis of mitochondria. Differentiation is a short-term program of biogenesis that is controlled at post-transcriptional levels of gene expression and is responsible for the rapid changes in the bioenergetic phenotype of mitochondria. In contrast, proliferation is a long-term program controlled both at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels of gene expression and is responsible for the increase in mitochondrial mass in the hepatocyte. Recently, a specific subcellular structure involved in the localization and control of the translation of the mRNA encoding the beta-catalytic subunit of the H(+)-ATP synthase (beta-mRNA) has been identified. It is suggested that this structure plays a prominent role in the control of mitochondrial biogenesis at post-transcriptional levels. The fetal liver has many phenotypic manifestations in common with highly glycolytic tumor cells. In addition, both have a low mitochondrial content despite a paradoxical increase in the cellular representation of oxidative phosphorylation transcripts. Based on the paradigm provided by the fetal liver we hypothesize that the aberrant mitochondrial phenotype of fast-growing hepatomas represents a reversion to a fetal program of expression of oxidative phosphorylation genes by the activation, or increased expression, of an inhibitor of beta-mRNA translation.