Thursday, June 25, 2009

Actin and the Cosmic Theme

(c) 2009 R. E.Morel All rights reserved.

Photo quiz: Seems like I gave away the answer, sort of. These are actin filaments (green) in cells. The blue blobs are the nuclei, storehouses of information, most of it billions of years old. They hold the codes for making all of the substances cells (including our cells) need to live, including the codes for making actin.

But what are actin filaments and what do they do? How do they reflect the cosmic theme? A cell is a buzz of transactions. And every transaction is an expression of the comic theme. Actin plays many roles. For one thing it acts as "railroad tracks," rails direct vital substances contained in cellular vesicles (remember vesicles?) to their destinations. And they are part of our muscles. Without them, we couldn't so much as wiggle a finger.

What is it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Cosmic Chemistry of Life

(c) Copyright R. E. Morel 2009 All rights reserved

Quiz answer: This is a road map of just some of the interrelated biochemical reactions going on in all living things, you included, right now.

Somehow, over billions of years, the cosmos produced on our planet, and probably on many others, an elegant chemical symphony that is the basis of our existence. And that "somehow" is an extension of our universal cosmic theme.
Each of the hundreds of chemical reactions in the road map represents an event, and events disperse energy. In less than one tick of a clock, trillions upon trillions of these events occur in each cell. So, we find that life at the chemical level represents exactly the same theme as star formation and candle flames, matter and energy organizing in ways that enhance the dispersal of energy.

But how does this staggering array of chemical dynamics fit into the world of the cell, the fundamental microscopic cathedral of life? That's next.

Photo quiz:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


(c)copyright R. E. Morel 2009. All rights reserved.

Quiz answer:
This photo shows substances similar to material that was deposited on Earth long ago from meteors and comets. One theory of the origin of life proposes that space debris like this provided one fundamental requirement for the genesis of life—a container. All life is composed of containers called cells, and, within them, the enormously complex transactions between matter and energy, the biochemistry of life, move at blinding speeds. Containers like the ones in the photo could have provided the opportunity to house and concentrate early chemical reactions. This could have led to a progression toward more and more complex and organized systems of chemical reactions. At its most basic level, that is what life is—biochemistry in a container!

But the complexity of even a single living cell is mind boggling, far more organized than just jumbles of chemical reactions.. Why did such a seemingly impossible complexity develop? That's where our cosmic theme comes in. Remember, in everything from cosmic dust clouds forming stars to candles and their flames, matter and energy "discover" the best ways to generate dispersal. And that means generating organized dynamic forms, like cells.

Long before life began on our planet, energy from the sun was constantly driving countless chemical reactions. Many of the substances that resulted were tightly packaged matter and energy. These substances represented the same sort of packaging we see in cosmic dust clouds and candles. In other words, the Earthly primordium eventually became home to matter that was ripe for dispersal. And life, just like a sun or a flame, became the "discovery" that represented the best solution for "unpackaging" concentrated matter and energy.

Next we'll discover more about life's synchrony with a cosmic theme. In the meantime, what's this photo about?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Candle Flame

Photo Quiz Answer: The structures (approximately actual size) in the photo are called Benard cells. You are looking down on a shallow layer of mineral oil in a glass container. The oil has been dusted with a fine powder that reveals the cells. The oil is being heated uniformly from below, and the cells are upwelling heat energy from below and dispersing it to the surroundings above. These cells form as if by magic. They represent the best pathway available for distributing and dispersing the heat energy being pumped into the oil. This self-ordering is an expression of our cosmic connection: Matter and energy work together to produce ordered dynamic structures that disperse energy, and often matter, in the best way possible.

To explore our cosmic theme a bit further let's consider something a little more familiar than Benard cells—a candle flame. We know what happens when we light a candle. Once started, a flame evolves in seconds into a form that all of us recognize. We may start the process with a match, but the flame quickly organizes all by itself. We know what happens, and it happens for the same reason that Benard cells appear. The flame is the best way of spreading out the matter and energy that are tightly packaged in the wax and wick of the candle. The solid candle is transformed into gases and the energy contained in the candle are dispersed as heat and light. But, it reasonable to ask how all this connects to the cosmos and life in the cosmos?

Take a look at this photograph, called the Pillars of Creation, taken by the Hubble telescope. These are gigantic clouds of cosmic dust that contain enormous amounts of matter and energy, very much like a candle, only on an entirely different scale. (Even at warp-speed, it could take Captain Kirk's Enterprise years to travel from the bottom to the top of these clouds.) But, no matter the scale, the clouds are expressing the same theme as a candle flame! Stars are being born within them, and, just as in candle flames, stars are the best way of dispersing energy. Around some of these stars planets will form, and some of those may well be life friendly. Eventually some of those planets may produce new civilizations.

We see the dust and its potential. But, where did the dust come from and what's in it? That we will discuss next.

In the meantime: Can you identify what this photo is showing?

This is a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. What are they and how do they express the cosmic theme?

(c)2009 R. E. Morel

Monday, June 1, 2009

Where the Dust Came From

Copyright R. E.Morel 2009

Photo Quiz Answer: This might look like a gigantic cosmic event—perhaps a star exploding? It isn't. It's really a dime-size mold growing on an orange. That, however, doesn't make it any less cosmic. The mold is a living thing, and life expresses the same theme we have been talking about. Just as in a candle flame and in enormous dust clouds, such as the Pillars of Creation, life represents the best available means of dispersing matter and energy. In this case the mold is processing "orange matter" into diffuse gases (carbon dioxide and water vapor). And, though it's not apparent or easily measured, the mold is dissipating heat energy into the surroundings. We do essentially the same thing.

Now, back to those cosmic dust clouds. Where did the dust come from? It turns out that it came from the explosion of a giant star, a red giant, many billions of years ago. The photo below shows the size of one of these giant stars compared to our sun, the tiny, almost invisible, dot in the rectangle at the lower left. Before red giants explode they manufacture all of the matter that ends up in the clouds, and they leave behind plenty of resident energy that "needs" to be dispersed—eventually by new stars. That's how we got here. We come from dust clouds formed when a red giant exploded. And the material, except hydrogen, that makes up our bodies and everything else around us was manufactured in our gigantic "birth star." Hydrogen, a major component of life forms, has been around, almost literally, forever. It's fascinating to note that carbon, the central element in all of life's chemistry, is the first element to form in red giants. Next we'll look into the origin of life.

In the meantime, what's in the photo?