The inner life of your cells

| June 20, 2010 | 1 Reply

I don’t claim to understand most of this Harvard video regarding the inner life of cells, but I’m fascinated by the visuals.  This 2006 video by Alain Viel, Robert A. Lue and John Liebler, functions as a biography about you (and me) and brings to mind the following passages from Harold M. Franklin’s poetic/scientific book, The Way of the Cell, Page x (2001):

One response to the question, What Is Life?, is simply, Look around! Note the birds and butterflies, zebras and ammonites, the intricate web of life present and past, and joined the unending struggle to ensure its continuance in the face of human arrogance and mindlessness. This has been eloquently said by others, far better than I could, and it is not what I have in mind here. For the past 40 years, I’ve been immersed in research on the biochemistry and physiology of microorganisms, with emphasis on the fundamental aspects such as bioergetics and morphogenesis. In consequence, the central problems of life present themselves to me at the interface of chemistry and biology. How do lifeless chemicals come together to produce those exquisitely ordered structures that we call organisms? How can molecular interactions account for their behavior, growth, reproduction? How did organisms and their constituents arise on an Earth that had neither, and then diversify into the cornucopia of creatures that can live in each drop of pond water? My purpose is not to “reduce” biology to chemistry and physics, but to gain some insight into the nature of biological order.

Cell Nucleus - creative commons

Cell Nucleus - creative commons

Inevitably, then, this is a personal book–one scientist’s attempt to wring understanding from the tide of knowledge. It grew out of the experience of a lifetime devoted to research, scholarship and instruction; but since my purpose is to make sense of the facts of life rather than to expound the facts themselves, this inquiry walks the edge of science proper. The arguments and conclusions presented here seem to me sound, but they are certainly not the last word on the subject. The most valuable lessons that the discipline of science teaches are to play the game of conjecture and reputation, to appreciate the provisional nature of our knowledge, and to prize doubt! If what I have written here encourages a few readers to look up from their gels and genes to peer at the far horizon, I shall be well content. Of my shortcomings as an investigator, scholar, philosopher and expository I am keenly aware . . .

Every month it seems that I hear yet another sad story about someone who has been stricken by a terrible disease or who has recently died.  When they hear of these things, most people wonder, “How could this have happened?”   Though I also mourn these events, I inevitably find myself wondering how bodies work at all.  They seem far too complicated to work for even a second, much less for a lifetime.   I know that they work, because I sitting here breathing and writing, but how is it possible that the extensive mechanical-seeming processes taking place within each of my cells successfully scale up to the organism level?

Every breath is miraculous and every act of conscious generosity is beyond explanation (including religious “explanation”), at least to those of us who are honest.

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Category: nature, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Lecture to myself | Dangerous Intersection | July 4, 2010

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