May 13, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Cell Electronics Is High-Tech

To describe a living cell these days, you have to borrow electronics lingo.  Notice how two recent articles described cell specs:

  1. Ham radio immunity:  What acts like a radio dial, a signal amplifier, and a precision rheostat?  Your immune system, according to Science Daily.  Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital described how the cell controls its T cells.  They don’t just use simple on-and-off switching.  “Rather, they possess sophisticated molecular controls that enable them to adjust their function with exquisite precision,” the article says.  “Such subtle adjustment enables T cells to modulate their development and function, including avoiding autoimmunity.”  It’s all done with genes and proteins and other molecules.  How cool is that?  It’s wireless.
  2. Dim the lights:  A plant leaf has to deal with a wide range of light, from darkness to overcast to overpowering noonday sun.  To avoid sunburn, reported Science Daily, it has a dimmer switch.  A multi-disciplinary team of scientists identified pigment-binding protein CP29 as the “antenna” (there’s another one of those electronics terms) that squelches the photosynthesis engines when too much light is coming in.  Like a lightning rod, it safely channels the energy down other pathways so that the “light harvesting machinery” is not overwhelmed.  Actually, there is triple redundancy built in, so that no one protein becomes a single point of failure.  The reactions take place in the timescale of a femtosecond (a millionth of a billionth of a second).
        The article explained another reason why scientists are keen to understand how a plant cell does this.  Plants achieve an astonishingly high efficiency – 97% – in the conversion of light energy to chemical energy.  Part of that is due to the chloroplast’s ability to quickly fine-tune the available light, even when clouds are passing overhead.  If electronics engineers could mimic that, energy-hungry humans could have a bright future: “This discovery holds important implications for the future design of artificial photosynthesis systems that could provide the world with a sustainable and secure source of energy.”

Here’s one for the guy who likes sports instead of nerdy stuff.  Another Science Daily article talked about a cellular tag team.  Two proteins work in tandem to help a dividing cell run the gauntlet of critical functions without getting slammed.  To figure this out, scientists at Duke University had to look at the match from the grandstands, because there were too many players in the ring.  “It’s a new way of thinking,” said Stephen Haase, biology professor.  “We’ve spent decades on a reductionist approach to science.  That method has been phenomenally successful.  But now, with genome technologies, we have the opportunity to look at the dynamics of all the genes at the same time.”  This approach is known as Systems Biology (see 05/07/2008).

Where did the cell earn its electrical engineering degree?  From the University of Chance?
    None of these articles mentioned evolution or had any use for it.  Engineers, come on in.  Science labs are hiring.  There will be a lot of room after the Darwin Party deadbeats move out with their 19th-century hangovers.  Check out the new Biologic Institute that employs the intelligent design approach explicitly, the way the above stories do implicitly.  Bio-logic.  Get it?

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