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I Am Freaking Awesome (Seriously)

I think I may have had an epiphany, but I can't be certain because (a) I can't spell epiphany and (b) I'm not entirely sure what one is. All I know is that whenever I look in a mirror I feel a sense of awe and wonder that is hard to put into words.

What? No! Don't be silly, I'm not talking about my legendary good looks. It would be immodest of me to do so, and I pride myself on my humility. I'm talking about something much deeper and more meaningful (as hard as this may be for you to believe).

Actually, this has been building for some time. Out of all the books I've read, and I've read a lot of books, one that truly boggled my mind and that stays with me to this day is Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell by Dennis Bray.

Dennis does a masterful job. He starts by describing how a single-celled creature like an amoeba functions, including how it creates proteins and how interactions between different proteins can be used to detect external stimuli, perform “computations,” make “decisions,” and initiate actions. For example, even though an amoeba comprises only a single cell, it can “crawl” around, hunt for food, and respond to external stimuli like lights and sounds and smells… all without muscles or a nervous system.

Next, we move to colonies of single-celled creatures that use proteins to detect each other's presence and to communicate. This leads us to simple multi-celled creatures, in which the different cells forming the organism manage to communicate with each other so as to achieve a common goal.

All of which leads us to the current pinnacle of evolution as we know it, which would be me. Well, you too, of course, but mostly me. (Hey, it's my epiphany we're talking about here!)

My head is buzzing with the amazing things we've discovered, such as how the DNA in our cells actually includes virus DNA. (Approximately 8% of the human genome is made up of retrovirus DNA in our genes.) Or the fact that the number of bacterial cells in our bodies outnumber our human cells by a factor of 10 to one. (Bacterial cells are very much smaller than human cells. The combined weight of all the bacterial cells is approximately 3 lb in an average adult human being.)

And then we have epigenetics, in which the underlying DNA doesn't change, but small chemical groups and proteins can attach themselves to the DNA and affect gene expression (i.e., which genes are active or inactive). This is one of the mechanisms behind the way in which our cells differentiate themselves into skin, muscles, nerves, etc. More recently, it's been recognized that an organism's epigenome can be modified by changes in its external environment, and that these changes can passed down to that organism's offspring, all without mutating the underlying DNA.

As an aside, I would also highly recommend Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order From Chaos by Peter M. Hoffmann. One of the questions that has baffled philosophers and scientists since time began is how could life arise from lifelessness. Life's Ratchet explains how inanimate matter can spontaneously construct complex processes such as those inherent to living systems.

Have you ever seen animations showing how the molecular mechanisms in cells function? These animations give the impression that everything is orderly and peaceful inside the cell, and that the individual molecular machines are quietly trundling around performing their tasks without a care in the world. In reality, at the molecular level, the inside of a cell is like the heart of a hurricane. The molecular machines have to do things like transcribing DNA and creating proteins in a maelstrom of activity. Once again, Life's Ratchet provides mind-boggling insights into how all of this works.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

17 comments on “I Am Freaking Awesome (Seriously)

  1. SP
    January 5, 2015

    Biology is an interesting subject. It's always exciting to read about our body cells. And with smartphones coming in you can read whenever and wherever. But how does this biology concept merges with engineering .

  2. Susan Fourtané
    January 6, 2015

    SP, 

    What Max tries to say with all this is that a human being is like a more complex amoeba. 😀 Although I would think about this twice as an amoeba can reproduce by itself and a human being can't. 

    -Susan

  3. Susan Fourtané
    January 6, 2015

    SP, 

    What Max tries to say with all this is that a human being is like a more complex amoeba. 😀 Although I would think about this twice as an amoeba can reproduce by itself and a human being can't. 

    -Susan

  4. Max The Magnificent
    January 6, 2015

    @SP: …But how does this biology concept merges with engineering

    I'm glad you asked. It could be argued that it doesn't LOL

    On the other hand… most of the engineers I know are multi-dimensional beings — they love engineering, but they also have interests outside of engineering — for example I know one chip designer who builds his own violins.

    There are lots of books out there — an inconceivable amount really — one way to filter out the “noise” is for us to recommend the really good ones to each other — like the two I mentioned in this blog.

    There's also the fact that we are starting to make robots that imitate living creatures — who knows where this will lead?

    My first love is engineering (well, beer, bacon, then engineering), but as much as popssioble I also like to keep abreast of what's going on in biology, chemistry, physics, etc., so check out my “Recommended Reads” blog if you are ever looking for something to read.

     

  5. Daniel
    January 6, 2015

    “On the other hand… most of the engineers I know are multi-dimensional beings — they love engineering, but they also have interests outside of engineering — for example I know one chip designer who builds his own violins.”

    Max, the working style or functionality of human body/organs resembles like a well designed engineering system.  Heart like a motor pump, kidneys like well structured multi level of filter, brain with fuzzy logic etc are some of the examples. Still doctors/engineers failed in create duplicate or substitute any of the human complex organs.

  6. Max The Magnificent
    January 7, 2015

    @Jacob: Max, the working style or functionality of human body/organs resembles like a well designed engineering system .

    There are some engineering glitches — like hiccups, for example 🙂

    Have you read Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body? Thsi is a very thought-provoking read.

    Another good book is Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind

  7. Daniel
    January 7, 2015

    “Have you read Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body? Thsi is a very thought-provoking read. Another good book is Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind”

    Max, sofar NO. I will try to get a pdf or e book.

  8. Max The Magnificent
    January 8, 2015

    @Jacob: I will try to get a pdf or e book .

    I would be very interested to hear what you think after you read these. You will find some additional suggestions in my Recommended Reads column. My absolute #1 recommendation to anyone is “Wetware: A Computer In Every Living Cell”

  9. Daniel
    January 8, 2015

    “I would be very interested to hear what you think after you read these. You will find some additional suggestions in my Recommended Reads column. My absolute #1 recommendation to anyone is “Wetware: A Computer In Every Living Cell””

    Max, thanks. I will let you know after reading it; may take one or two weeks.

  10. Max The Magnificent
    January 9, 2015

    @Jacob: Max, thanks. I will let you know after reading it; may take one or two weeks.

    No rush — no pressure (although I will be asking questions afterwards LOL). It will just be nice to hear what you think and to discuss them with you.

    Re the “Wetware” one — I loaded thsi to sopmeopne (I forget who) and it has not yet found it's way home, so I just bought another copy — it's that good!

     

  11. Daniel
    January 12, 2015

    “No rush — no pressure (although I will be asking questions afterwards LOL). It will just be nice to hear what you think and to discuss them with you.”

    Max, you are forcing me to leave the community (LoL)….

  12. Max The Magnificent
    January 12, 2015

    @Jacob: Max, you are forcing me to leave the community (LoL).

    Noooo — don't say that — we only just met 🙂

  13. Daniel
    January 15, 2015

    “Noooo — don't say that — we only just met :-)”

    Max, just kidding 🙂

  14. Max The Magnificent
    January 16, 2015

    @Jacob: just kidding 🙂

    Phew!

  15. Daniel
    January 20, 2015

    @Jacob: just kidding 🙂  Phew!

    Max, I have searched dictionary to understand your comment -Phew

    “expressing a strong reaction of relief, or of disgust at a smell”

     

  16. Max The Magnificent
    January 20, 2015

    @Jacob: I have searched dictionary to understand your comment – Phew

    I meant the former — “expressing a strong reaction of relief” — I forgot it had two meanings — it was obvious to me what I meant from the context — language is a funny thing 🙂

  17. Daniel
    January 27, 2015

    “I meant the former — “expressing a strong reaction of relief” — I forgot it had two meanings — it was obvious to me what I meant from the context — language is a funny thing :-)”

    Max, -:)

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