Monday, July 8, 2013

Molecular Basis of Life

Single Cell Algae

The mostly lifeless realm we know as our universe has no appearance of a recognizable plan beyond the physical laws that govern its actions.  The laws familiar to most of us are explained in mechanical terms and deal with, in a general way, the conservation of mass and energy.  Some aspects of our experience still elude real understanding.  People come up with analogies to explain gravity, for instance, but we don’t really know much about it.  It’s like the monk Mendel tending his peas and describing the effects of genetics without knowing anything about the nature of atoms, molecules or DNA.  We've discovered the existence of Black Holes but we don’t know their meaning other than that they provide a clue to a greater mystery.  Time is believed an aspect of physical dimension but what is the nature of this relationship?  We experience time as a sequence of events proceeding always in one predictable direction.  Is what registers in our biological minds all that there is to know about this phenomenon?  Not likely.  Atoms are no longer thought of as the fundamental building blocks of matter.  They appear now as discrete organizations of substances existing in a realm that doesn't defined them as clearly being of mass or energy.  We are dabbling on a fringe that threatens to break open our current notion of reality.

Our cumulative knowledge of the physical realm does not yet provide the basis for understanding the quality of ‘being alive.’  We are surrounded by entities of various sizes and shape that exhibit life.  We intuitively sense all manner of living creation as the result of a mystical vitality.  Life may form from dust and ash but it contains the breath of God.  The essence of life has been far too complex to entertain other explanations that rely solely upon an argument of reason.  This has mainly to do with our inadequate fact-based information describing the processes responsible for life.  The evidence obtained thus far, though, through the method of science, provides a compelling new narrative of life’s workings, but it still lacks a final chapter.  

Life continuously draws from its surroundings to maintain life.  Life reacts to, and sometimes learns from, its own life experiences.  Life creates new instances of itself.  Life goes to extraordinary lengths to sustain its quality of being alive, but life for the individual, must inevitably end.  When an entity can no longer sustain the processes it needs to live, it becomes disorganized.  Its activities are reduced to the quiet state of inanimate matter.  Its organic material is available for animals to consume and plants to, eventually, absorb.  Molecular resources that aren't salvaged by other living beings eventually break down into simpler, less exotic forms - structures not currently employed in the dazzling production of life.  

Microscopic cells are the simplest, most basic forms that exhibit independent life.  They are credited with providing for every complex plant and animal that inhabits our surroundings.  There is not an insect that crawls, a bird that flies, a tree that grows or a flower that blooms that doesn't result exclusively from cells.  While too small for our eyes to detect cells have size enough to display elaborate complexity.  Each cell is a carefully regulated environment encapsulated within a barrier that selects what resources may enter its domain and what is necessary to expel from it.  Its centralized information center oversees its many factories that synthesis a diverse variety of complex protein molecules needed for maintaining its structure and metabolizing energy.  Numerous reaction cycles must be constantly sustained if the delicate balance required for life is to be maintained. 

Life results from an elaborate choreography of processes that are entirely guided by the physical properties that dictate the interaction of molecules.  How this works and what it all inevitably means makes for a story still in the writing.

Biology Topics:

Protein Creation

Eukaryotic Cell


Living - Why?

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