Acidity within lysosomes (black) is required for proper digestion of nutrients for the cell. Credit: Rockefeller University

Just like the body contains lungs, liver, and lymph nodes, so does each of the body’s cells contain tiny specialized organs. Perhaps most peculiar among them are lysosomes—bubble-like sacks that act as part recycling bin, part stomach.

Among other things, a lysosome devours cellular debris—and, like a stomach, it needs to be acidic to do its job. In fact, without acidic lysosomes, cells in culture stop dividing and eventually die off.
“We asked a very simple question: Why?” says Kivanç Birsoy, Chapman Perelman Assistant Professor at The Rockefeller University. Experiments in his lab uncovered an equally simple answer: Iron. It turns out that a cell can no longer access this essential nutrient when the pH within its lysosomes rises.

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