Monday, July 01, 2013

Wonders of a cell

Page 375 of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings touches very briefly on the extraordinary complexity of cells and cellular process. In a post titled Organized Chaos Brandon Keim writes (in a footnote):
the modeling of protein folding and unfolding described in this PNAS article was produced by a custom-designed, massively parallel piece of dedicated hardware roughly 100 times more powerful than any other machine used for this purpose. Running at full power over the course of a day, it can model ten microseconds of molecular cell dynamics. It would need to run for 2,737 years to describe one second.
Keim counsels against comparing cells to machines or factories:
The proteins of which they’re made don’t fold and unfold and operate according to some stepwise blueprints. Shape and function are exquisitely sensitive to infinitesimal energetic shifts, to the motion of atoms and the forces they exert. Rather than a cellular factory, then, imagine a restaurant with a kitchen where blenders turn into convection ovens and whisks into knives when someone walks by, raising ambient temperatures by a fractional degree. Imagine that the whole kitchen is like this, that cooks and prep staff, though they move with intent, can’t help but wander around—and still the seven-course meals come rolling through the doors.

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