Sometimes it is hard to appreciate the complexity of molecular processes. Especially the biological ones that go on inside our bodies. Fortunately this is where this amazing visualization by the people at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research can come in handy. While this is just a model of the molecular processes, it does a great job showing how  enzymes and protiens act just like machines. Check out DNA Replication at 1:42 to see what I mean.

One of the things I love about molecular biology is how complex behavior, like DNA replication, can arise from a seemingly non-complex set of pieces. Consider this – enzymes are made up simple molecules called amino acids that are strung together in a line. There are only 20 different types of amino acids to choose from however.  String up a few thousand of these 20 amino acids in a certain configuration and you have an enzyme that replicates DNA. String them up in a different way and you’ll have an enzyme that does something completely different like produce sugars for your body. All of the information about the complex behavior of the enzyme arises from the stringing up of these 20 amino acids.

This is analogous to having twenty different types of beads you can choose from and arranging them all on a piece of string. Arrange them one way and your string of beads might be able to… make coffee. Arrange them another way and now your string of beads can make you toast. It is completely ridiculous and yet it works! This is an example of emergent behavior – complex systems arising from interaction between simple elements.

What sorts of science topics do you find completely crazy yet fascinating?


Generic structure of an amino acid. Soucre: Wikipedia


4 responses »

  1. Dave Vallett says:

    That IS cool. I like the actin / myosin processes that enable muscle contractions. Oh … and the way raw kifli dough transforms with heat into soft, flaky, pods of chewy Slovakian goodness.

  2. iampotassium says:

    I am always very fascinated at how viruses and bacteria manage to invade and then the techniques they use to evade the host cell’s surveillance system. Craziness. So cool…

  3. Nicole Podnecky says:

    I personally really appreciate the arms race between bacteriophage and bacteria. So amazing… and what potential for the development of antimicrobials (though Russia has been using this technology for a long time now). Biology is cool 🙂

  4. Well, technicly there’s also the bootstraping itself containing infromation, given only DNA you would be hard pressed to figure out what it “means”, DNA and the ribosome, as well as the cell/organism itself are all mutually co-dependant and as a system the “complete information” has no single place. DNA is more of an instruction than information in this sense. The difference is subtle but important.

    Either way, a-fucking-mazing it is.

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