June 19, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Cells Use Cloud Computing

“Cloud computing” is the up-and-coming trend in information technology.  It allows processes to run in parallel on multiple networked processors with more robustness, because other processors can pick up the slack if a major server fails.  Scientists are finding that cells have been using this technology all along.
    Science Daily reported on work by biologists in Spain and Israel working with Carnegie Mellon University.  “Gene regulatory networks in cell nuclei are similar to cloud computing networks, such as Google or Yahoo!, researchers report today in the online journal Molecular Systems Biology,” the article began.  “The similarity is that each system keeps working despite the failure of individual components, whether they are master genes or computer processors.”  Later, the article brought in another internet giant: “We now have reason to think of cells as robust computational devices, employing redundancy in the same way that enables large computing systems, such as Amazon, to keep operating despite the fact that servers routinely fail.”
    Cells have master control genes that turn on other genes.  Researchers have been puzzled by experiments in which de-activating these genes one at a time did not interrupt the cell.  It turns out that parallel copies, called paralogs, are able to step in.  Paralogs have more or less sequence similarity to the master genes.  The more similar they are, the more they can fill in for the master gene.  The article explained, “if one of these genes is lost, other ‘parallel’ master genes with similar sequences, called paralogs, often can replace it by turning on the same set of genes.”
    Scientists estimate that 5 to 10 percent of genes are in this master-gene category.  Many diseases are associated with mutations in one or more of these transcription factors, the article said.

All together now: “This article said nothing about evolution.”  It’s such an ingrained pattern (that the more scientific detail, the less Darwin), it is becoming wallpaper.  For fun, make up a just-so story about how this cloud computing technology in the cell came about.  The crazier the better.  You might even get it published by New Scientist, the euphemistic label for Old Materialist.

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