March 2, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Go to the Cell, Thou Sluggard

Solomon ordered the lazy man, Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:6).  Today, he would probably tell lazy materialists needing wisdom to consider the cell.  Several recent scientific papers and news stories illustrate why materialism faces a stiff challenge from design features found in the fundamental units of life.
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  1. Machines with 3-D force:  Nature said,1 “During migration, cells interact with their environment by exerting mechanical forces on it.  A combination of two techniques shows that they do so in all three dimensions by a push?pull mechanism.”  The article went on to describe how “mechanobiology” is an emerging field within biophysics.
        Cells are no longer to be viewed as bags of chemicals bouncing around at random.  “In contrast to passive objects such as water droplets, living cells actively probe their environment by exerting forces on it as they migrate,” authors Hersel and Ladoux said.  “Such forces not only drive mechanical events such as cell deformation but also trigger cellular processes such as cell?environment adhesion signalling and cytoskeletal reorganization.”
  2. Two ways to stop:  A car can slow down either by braking or downshifting.  Similarly, cells can down-regulate gene expression in different ways, reported Science Daily.  “The binding of repressor proteins to DNA provides a molecular switch for such regulation,” the article explained.  “Although the two types of protein have been identified as silencers of gene expression, each one uses a distinct molecular mechanism to halt the process,” according to research at Michigan State University.
  3. Trains and derailment:  Scientists have been finding that many diseases are caused when machinery goes awry, like a train going off-track.  Science Daily reported one case, where “Collisions of Protein Machines Cause DNA Replication Derailment.”
        Cell division is a risky process, physically speaking (see animation mentioned above).  Error analysis of cellular machinery presupposes machinery that is designed to work.
        Millions of base pairs have to be copied in a complex operation involving hundreds of protein and nucleic acid factors.  “DNA damage, if not kept in check, can lead to many problems including cancers,” the article said.  “Researchers have shown that the process of replication is even riskier than originally thought.”  If this is so, the wonder is that the machines work so well most of the time to preserve life on the planet.  As one biology professor used to say, “The wonder is not that we get sick.  The wonder is that we are ever well.”  Fortunately, redundant DNA damage response systems are able to handle most emergencies.
  4. Lock shapes the key:  Another article on Science Daily examined how proteins fold into their specific three-dimensional shapes, vital to their functions.  German researchers wondered how partners could bind to unstructured proteins that had not yet folded.  Studying one particular enzyme, they found that local interactions were sufficient to induce binding to the active site.  “These results are of fundamental importance for understanding the mechanism of protein-protein interactions,” the article said.
  5. Codes upon codes:  Nature discussed a recent revelation about the genetic code that expands the information content of DNA.1  It now appears that base pairs can flip over and reconnect to neighboring nucleotides in new ways separate from the standard Watson-Crick pairing.  These transient pairs, called Hoogsteen base pairs after the discoverer, provide additional genetic information for the cell.  Honig and Rohs said, “Evidence of transient changes in base-pairing geometry highlights the fact that the information held in DNA’s linear sequence is stored in three dimensions.
        Describing a paper in the same issue that explored this finding, they said, “Nikolova and colleagues’ discovery reminds us that DNA offers proteins not only an enticing linear alphabet, but also a set of conformations that can be recognized in a sequence-dependent way.  Understanding how the linear sequence of bases in DNA is recognized by proteins is therefore a problem that must be solved in three dimensions.”
  6. Long live the diatom:  Talk about longevity: researchers at University of Gothenburg have found diatom spores buried in seafloor sediments that were able to revive after more than 100 years in a state of suspended animation.  “We revived hundreds of genetic individuals of diatoms and induced them to start dividing again and to form cloned cultures,” a team member said.  “The oldest are more than 100 years old, the youngest quite fresh.”
        How does this translate to our experience?  “As diatoms normally divide once a day, this means that for a diatom a period of 100 years is equivalent to 40,000 generations,” the article explained.  “In human terms, this means genetic material equivalent to around 800,000 years.
        There’s a reason for this capability.  “What makes diatoms special is that if the environment they live in becomes too inhospitable they form resting spores, which gather in sediment at the bottom of the sea.  When conditions improve, the spores can be revived.”
  7. Blood explosion:  Scientists have been studying blood chemistry for over 100 years, but they have missed a lot, said Science Daily.  “After three years of exhaustive analysis led by a University of Alberta researcher, the list of known compounds in human blood has exploded from just a handful to more than 4,000.”
        This information can provide a wealth of new information for tracking disease conditions.  Biochemist David Wishart said, “By combining research from the past with our new findings we have moved the science of blood chemistry from a keyhole view of the world to a giant picture window.”  Whatever happens now, the announcement shows that previous descriptions of blood have been overly simplified, compared to the complexity now being unveiled.
  8. Organized turnover:  Programmed cell death (apoptosis) works together with cell division (mitosis) to keep us healthy, explained Live Science.  Apoptosis or “cell suicide” is common in fetal development as webbing between fingers and toes is dissolved to give shape to our hands and feet.  It also supports the immune system.  The lining of the intestines is similarly renewed by a balance of cell death and cell division.  “Because new cells replace old, worn-out ones, our tissues remain healthy,” the article said.  Look how orderly the process is:

    During apoptosis, the cell shrinks and pulls away from its neighbors.  Then the surface of the cell appears to boil, with fragments breaking away and escaping like bubbles from a pot of hot water.  The DNA in the cell’s nucleus condenses and breaks into evenly sized fragments.  Soon the nucleus itself disintegrates, followed by the entire cell.  A cellular cleanup crew made of phagocytic cells – immune cells that engulf and dispose of dead cells and debris – arrives on the scene to mop up the remains.

  9. Perfect spring:  Elastin is a springy protein found in elastic tissues of animals.  In “Solving the riddle of nature’s perfect spring,” PhysOrg discussed work at the University of Manchester to figure out how elastin works in order to “lead to the development of new synthetic elastic polymers.”
        Its properties are truly amazing: “Elastin allows tissues in humans and other mammals to stretch, for example when the lungs expand and contract for respiration or when arteries widen and narrow over the course of a billion heart beats.”
    personification of evolution’s mindless, undirected process: “The study, published in the science journal PNAS (March issue), revealed how evolution has triumphed where engineering has so far failed by generating a molecule with near-perfect elasticity that will last a lifetime.
  10. Human junk no mo:  Geneticists have been intrigued by thousands of repetitive sequences in primate genes, particularly one type called the Alu element.  Once thought of as useless genetic junk, these Alu elements are emerging as important regulators of gene expression.
        PhysOrg reported on work by University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine looking for function in these repetitive sequences.  “It’s been hard to say whether these Alu-derived exons actually do anything on a genome-wide level,” the senior author of the study said.  “Our new study says they do – they affect protein production by altering the efficiency with which messenger RNA is translated into protein.”
        Although the article called this “a mechanism that could contribute to the evolution of different biological characteristics in different species,” no examples were mentioned.  The press release seemed to be bluffing by claiming that Alu elements “have been linked to human and primate evolution” or that “Repetitive elements of the genome can provide a playground for the creation of new evolutionary characteristics.”  The claim is based on finding them in primates but not other animals, an argument that assumes evolution rather than demonstrating it.
  11. Shipping department:  “Proteins find their way with address label and guide” was the catchy headline of an article on PhysOrg.  After being transcribed and folded, proteins have to be shipped to their work sites.  “For proteins to find their way, they have a built-in signal linked to them, a kind of address label,” the article began, reporting on work by a team in Sweden.  “Moreover, they are helped by a particle that guides them to the cell membrane.”  The particle under study is SRP, “signal-recognizing particle.”  The opening paragraph is worth a mind-boggling exercise:

    Calculations indicate that each human cell contains roughly a billion protein molecules.  In other words, it’s crowded inside the cell, and order must be maintained.  What’s more, newly generated proteins often need to be transported from the place they were produced to the place they are to perform their tasks.  These proteins have a kind of address label, a signal sequence, that specifies what place inside or outside the cell they need to be transported to.  This transport must function flawlessly if order is to be maintained in the cell, but also for the cell to be able to communicate with its surroundings.  If a protein winds up in the wrong place, it can lead to serious disorders like cystic fibrosis.

    It’s not just the insides of cells that need transport.  A video on PhysOrg called “Embryo’s cell stampede” shows how cells themselves migrate in a controlled fashion in a growing organism.  “Cells don’t just sense where they are in the growing embryo and develop into the appropriate tissue,” the short article said.  “They move around and migrate to where they need to be.”  The phrase “cell stampede” connotes the order required to keep each cell targeted properly in a crowded, dynamic process.

  12. Rotary engine specs:  An international team investigated the stiffness of the stator in one of nature’s most amazing cellular machines, ATP synthase (see 09/22/2010 and embedded links).  Publishing in PNAS,3 the authors measured the stiffness of the stator and found it 10 times stiffer than the rotor.  That a biological cell has rotary motors that can be analyzed in engineering terms is an astonishing discovery of the past two decades.

Evolutionists seeking to explain these things from non-life have a much greater challenge than Darwin and his friends did, when he wrote to Joseph Hooker, speculating that perhaps chemicals in a “warm little pond” came together to form the first life.  Each of the systems described above seems not only real, but necessary for cell maintenance and survival.


1.  Hersel and Ladoux, “Biophysics: Push it, pull it,” Nature 470 (17 February 2011), pp. 340?341, doi:10.1038/470340a.
21  Honig and Rohs, “Biophysics: Flipping Watson and Crick,” Nature 470 (24 February 2011), pp. 472?473, doi:10.1038/470472a.
3.  Wachter et al, “Two rotary motors in F-ATP synthase are elastically coupled by a flexible rotor and a stiff stator stalk,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online February 22, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011581108.

Whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).  Do these discoveries make you think materialism?  No; that would be false, ugly, and discredited, like that stoooopidddd line in #9 that the study of elastin has “revealed how evolution has triumphed where engineering has so far failed by generating a molecule with near-perfect elasticity that will last a lifetime.”  Lovely.
    This is a wonderful time to be alive (in terms of opening the cellular black box).  Knowledge is exploding about the complexity of the cell, and there is no sign of it slowing down (see new light microscope coming out with 50-nanometer resolution, reported by the BBC News).
    The old canard about creation was that it is a “God of the gaps” argument – as science progresses, there is less for God to do.  But what if the gaps are getting wider as science progresses?  The argument cuts both ways; evolutionists can be accused of Darwin-of-the-gaps.  When they are reduced to arguing that evolution has triumphed where engineering has failed, you know they are in trouble.  Victory for intelligent design is imminent.  Hasten the victory; take these arrows and shoot them into the Darwin castle (03/29/2008 commentary).  There are millions of victims of materialistic indoctrination needing liberation.

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