Chemistry Nobel Celebrates Cell Complexity
A discovery rivalling the elucidation of the genetic code is the structure of the ribosome – the “molecular machine” that translates the DNA code into proteins. Untangling the complexity of this multi-part system won three scientists the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (see BBC News). The winners are Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath.
Science Daily included a photo model of the ribosome and described its action:
Inside every cell in all organisms, there are DNA molecules. They contain the blueprints for how a human being, a plant or a bacterium, looks and functions. But the DNA molecule is passive. If there was nothing else, there would be no life.
The blueprints become transformed into living matter through the work of ribosomes. Based upon the information in DNA, ribosomes make proteins: oxygen-transporting haemoglobin, antibodies of the immune system, hormones such as insulin, the collagen of the skin, or enzymes that break down sugar. There are tens of thousands of proteins in the body and they all have different forms and functions. They build and control life at the chemical level.
An understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life.
Some factoids gleaned from the reports: the ribosome contains “hundreds of thousands of atoms.” New Scientist said that the ribosome includes a “fact-checker” which “explains why nature produces so few faulty proteins.” Ramakrishnan said, “we knew this was a large molecular machine that translated genetic code to make proteins, but we didn’t know how it worked.” It took many years of X-ray crystallography and other delicate techniques to determine the structure. “We still don’t know exactly how it works, but we have made a tremendous amount of progress as a direct result of knowing what it looks like,” he added.
PhysOrg, echoing an AP story, brought Darwin into the picture – albeit briefly. “Their work builds on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and, more directly, on the work done by James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, who won the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine for mapping DNA’s double helix, the citation said.” The article did not elaborate on the Darwin connection. It appears to be a missing link.
PhysOrg also reported on an important link in the chain from code to protein that is coming to light: how the transcription process begins. It’s another complex process still being explored. Scientists in Munich have found one more step in the initiation process. Patrick Cramer had this to say: “The findings led us to propose a model of the whole complicated process of transcription initiation, an operation that is of crucial importance in all organisms, because it determines which genes are expressed, and when.” The process from gene to protein “must be carried out with great precision” and involves “the use of complicated assemblies made up of many different proteins, often referred to as molecular machines.”
Speaking of gene expression, an article last month on Science Daily revealed an even higher level of complexity: “protein regulators are themselves regulated.” Helge Grosshans (Friedrich Miescher Institute) explained what he found: “What was formerly conceived of as a direct, straightforward pathway is gradually turning out to be a dense network of regulatory mechanisms: genes are not simply translated into proteins via mRNA. MicroRNAs control the translation of mRNAs into proteins, and proteins in turn regulate the microRNAs at various levels.”
Throwing Darwin’s name into this story was like tossing a fly into perfume. Get it out as fast as you can. Darwin had nothing to do with this; to him, a cell was a nearly featureless blob of protoplasm. No way could he have envisioned any of this complex machinery. If he had known about it, he might have become a creationist.
While these scientists are certainly deserving of recognition, the one to praise is the Creator of these amazing systems of information-guided machines. They are just the latest in a long sequence of scientists who have gradually lifted the veil on the factory only to marvel at what they found. For a stimulating read, pick up a copy of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (see 06/27/2009 Resource of the Week). You’ll not only learn the fascinating story of how these systems were discovered and how they work; you’ll be convinced forever that modern biochemistry leaves Darwinism defunct in the wastebin of discredited myths. No attempt to resurrect Charlie’s corpse can succeed with what we have learned. Let the dead bury their dead. Follow the living Lord.