A Cell Technology Show
The basic units of life continue to astound scientists with their tricks. Here are a few recent samples:
- Valuable junk: The complementary or “antisense” strands of certain RNAs that latch onto messenger RNAs are not just junk anymore. Science Daily reported that these genetic oddities, “previously thought to have no function, may in fact protect sex cells from self-destructing.” Nobody would want that to happen. Up till now these strands of genetic material were thought to have no meaning at all. Now, “considering how widespread these antisense transcripts are, I wouldn’t be surprised if these findings eventually lead us to discover an entirely new level of gene regulation.” Another said, “This points to an entirely new process of gene regulation that we’ve never seen before in eukaryotic cells.”
- Fishers of molecules: How do DNA transcribers move? Do they crawl like an inchworm down the strand? No; the answer is even more surprising. Researchers at UCLA found that “transcription proceeds initially through a ‘scrunching’ mechanism in which, much like a fisherman reeling in a catch, RNAP [RNA Polymerase] remains in a fixed position while it pulls the flexible DNA strand of the gene within itself and past the enzyme’s reactive center to form the RNA product.” See EurekAlert for the details. The original papers in Science actually use the abstruse technical term “scrunching.” Another press release on EurekAlert has a picture of the “scrunching machine.”
- Diamonds from the rough: EurekAlert reported that another molecular machine is involved in gene expression. Another RNA polymerase builds micro-RNAs formerly thought to be junk, but now seen to be important in regulating the expression of genes. Scientists seem to be excited these days about treasure-hunting in the genetic junkyard. This discovery “broadens understanding of a rapidly developing area of biology known as functional genomics and sheds more light on the mysterious, so-called ‘junk DNA’ that makes up the majority of the human genome.”
- Of all the nerve dancers: Neurons cover themselves in myelin sheaths that are critical to their function. A press release from Vanderbilt U compared this to the insulation on electrical wiring in your house. “The formation of myelin sheaths during development requires a complex choreography generally considered to be one of nature’s most spectacular examples of the interactions between different kinds of cells,” reporter David Salisbury wrote. A group at Vanderbilt succeeded at filming part of the dance. “We discovered that this process is far more dynamic than anyone had dreamed,” commented one team member. It’s a good thing the dancers usually get their act together. Failure can result in “blindness, muscle weakness and paralysis, loss of coordination, stuttering, pain and burning sensations, impotence, memory loss, depression and dementia.” Ouch. Read the details and look at frames from the movies they made.
- At your service: Science Daily also had a story about the DNA Repair Team in the cell. Its motto, announces the title, is “to protect and to serve.” The article, based on Salk Institute research, began, “When you dial 911 you expect rescuers to pull up at your front door, unload and get busy–not park the truck down the street and eat donuts.” Same for the cell, it continues: “just before it divides, it recruits protein complexes that repair breakage that may have occurred along the linear DNA chains making up your 46 chromosomes.” There’s even a protein complex scientists have named 9-1-1. At the ends of chromosomes, the versatile repair crew knows how to call in additional support to tuck in the ends of the strands and form a protective cap. “Be thankful your cells are so clever,” the article states: “Erroneous fusion of chromosome ends would be disastrous, leading to cell death or worse.” No donut breaks for these skilled technicians; they are on the job 24 x 7.
Thanksgiving Day is approaching, by the way. As you feast, your servants will be hard at work. Be nice to them.
The discoveries pouring out of the world’s leading cell biology and genetics labs are exciting, and have “design” written all over them. Rare is the article on the details of cell biology that mentions evolution at all. If it does, evolutionary theory is usually tagged on as an afterthought, contributing nothing of substance. Reporters are increasingly bypassing the Charlie display and lining up at the high-tech booth.
It is hard to see how the Darwin Dictatorship can survive this continual onslaught. The Darwin Party must feel like North Korean leaders watching helplessly as their country is bombarded by colorful, gift-laden balloons those mission boards keep launching to the starving, brainwashed victims enslaved within. The soldiers try to arrest seekers from picking them up or looking at them, but they can’t stop them all, nor explain them away with the usual propaganda. Silently and relentlessly, the bright and cheery salvo proclaims to the captives, “Hang on; have faith – the darkness will end, and freedom will be your destiny.”