Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Spice of Life

This is a short section of a DNA
DNA is fascinating.  It's a long, perhaps a 40-inch long complex molecule; a connected group of atoms, ordered and arranged in a unique, one-of-a-kind arrangement for each individual creature. There is a copy of the individual's DNA in every cell of the body from hair follicles to flakes of skin in a foot callous. You'd know that if you watched NCIS.

Most DNA molecules are formed in two strands that spiral around each other in a double-helix.  The strands are connected by bonds across the gap between creating base pairs.

gene is the term used to describe a segment of the DNA molecule, and the number of base pairs in a gene segment is in the hundreds of thousands; not a simple thing.  The number of genes in the DNA of a life form varies widely.  Humans have about 22,000 genes which is more than a chicken has but less than a grape.  The actual number of genes in human DNA is still a matter of study and debate with ranges from 21,671 to 38,621 depending on whose work you follow.

Each gene controls a particular function within its host cell.  There's a lot going on in in there, apparently.  There's a copy of our DNA in each cell.

Take a break and watch the video here.  Note the production and industry processes, all of which are directed in their activity by DNA; it's the layout of logistics, just-in-time delivery, manufacturing, and transportation.  It handles factory systems maintenance and repair as well in parallel with production tasks.

The complexity of a cell is roughly equivalent to a large city like San Antonio.  And remember that cells are grouped together by task and function; skin, muscle, food processing, communications, data storage and analysis, sensor processing and rendering, and construction.  It's perhaps like an industrialized city with a primary product line.

Now broaden your perspective a bit and visualize those industrial cities as right next to each other, and run up the number of cities until you hit around 50 billion cities working together.  Each city is a labor and production center, and working together with those neighboring cities ... that's your heart.  Fifty billion cities, busy with work, cooperating to keep your blood flowing.

You have perhaps 100 trillion such little industrial cities working together in your body!
If you're curious about the cell and all the parts, here's a short Khan Academy class (right) on how it works.
And a narrated 3D look at the processes (left) for after you've got all the parts named.

And if your imagination is captured, see Inside the Living Body (lower right).
An overly simplistic view of life deprives us of the extraordinary beauty found there, does it not?  

Education is the spice of life.