Mitochondrial envy

Just think if Dr. Freud were alive today.

He’d be studying mitochondrial envy.

After all, the sperm have no mitochondria. Only the egg has mitochondria, so the mitochondria are matrilineal, from the mother only. And it is from mother to daughter to daughter that they are handed down.

I have a photograph of my mother’s mother’s mother. Mary Robbins White. She is looking straight at the camera, no smile, serious. Her thoughts are contained, her eyes give nothing away. I have photographs of my mother’s mother, my mother, me and my daughter, all with the same expression. On guard.

The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cells as well. They may have been a separate cell that moved in and made a deal with a larger cell: you take care of me and I will power you. An exchange. A bargain. A treaty. Sounds like a sensible female move to me.

My son has my mitochondria. His children, if he has them, will have his wife’s mitochondria. I think he has chosen well. I like her very much. I hope to see grandchildren.

Perhaps mitochondria are the magic that early hominoids worship when they make the earth figurine, the stone figure with generous breasts and belly and hips. The nurturer, the fecund mother, the destroying hungry mother who swallows her children and will not let them go.

I am reading Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By, 1972. I wonder what he would say about the matrilineal mitochondria, the second set of genetic material in each cell, the part that comes from the mother only. I think he would be fascinated and he would be writing another book.