Mitochondria perform multiple cellular functions including energy production, cell proliferation and apoptosis. Studies described in this paper suggest a role for mitochondria in maintaining genomic stability. Genomic stability appears to be dependent on mitochondrial functions involved in maintenance of proper intracellular redox status, ATP-dependent transcription, DNA replication, DNA repair and DNA recombination. To further elucidate the role of mitochondria in genomic stability, I propose a mitochondria damage checkpoint (mitocheckpoint) that monitors and responds to damaged mitochondria. Mitocheckpoint can coordinate and maintain proper balance between apoptotic and anti-apoptotic signals. When mitochondria are damaged, mitocheckpoint can be activated to help cells repair damaged mitochondria, to restore normal mitochondrial function and avoid production of mitochondria-defective cells. If mitochondria are severely damaged, mitocheckpoint may not be able to repair the damage and protect cells. Such an event triggers apoptosis. If damage to mitochondria is continuous or persistent such as damage to mitochondrial DNA resulting in mutations, mitocheckpoint may fail which can lead to genomic instability and increased cell survival in yeast. In human it can cause cancer. In support of this proposal we provide evidence that mitochondrial genetic defects in both yeast and mammalian systems lead to impaired DNA repair, increased genomic instability and increased cell survival. This study reveals molecular genetic mechanisms underlying a role for mitochondria in carcinogenesis in humans. © 2004 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.