Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cancer cells might be Creative

I have heard a few times that human beings are comparable to cancer (not a positive view, sorry) in the sense that humans: (1) drain resources from the other members of an ecosystem, (2) grow at a disproportionately high rate when compared to fellow animals, and (3) cause ecosystems to malfunction due to the previous two behaviors.
It can also be argued that human beings have their advantage due to the combination of a creative brain and social skills. Physically, human beings are hardly a match for most other animals. So, taking this analogy back to cancerous cells, would be appropriate to say that cancer cells have a sort of "creativity" that is lacking in other cells. Just as a "better" brain is defined by the amount of information it can process, it is arguable that cancer cells process more information than other well differentiated cells, partly because cancer cells can perform a myriad of functions.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Synthetic Biology vs natural biodiversity

A constant worry in the environmental front of synthetic biology is its influence on natural biodiversity and natural systems in general. Synthetic biology products are human-made things, no more natural than buildings, radio, or television. If this is the case, the question about environment is not solely related to synthetic biology but engineering as a whole. Human constructions - buildings, roads, night lights, irrigation, dams, etc. - have probably affected natural systems significantly. Synthetic biology is another item on this long list; perhaps humans were much less careful about natural systems when they first started engineering buildings or dams. After witnessing the slow decrease of natural landscape, perhaps humans have become more cautious about consequences of engineered products. The question on how to safeguard natural systems from engineered biological systems is perhaps a starting point to the question about how to safeguard natural systems against any engineered system.

Monday, March 4, 2013

rules in biological systems

Researchers are often surprised when we find organisms that break the 'rules' of living systems. These rules include commonly observed phenomena such as amino acid codes, conserved metabolic pathways, etc. Considering the unplanned nature of evolution, it should be surprising that such rules actually exist. It should feel more logical when rules are broken.Well, lets consider other places where we find 'rules'. Human societies have rules, and even though every person has different interests and tastes. People agree on the rules because what is gained from following the rules is probably greater than the gain from breaking the rules (in general). Similarly, perhaps rules exist in living systems because there is sufficient gain - better exchange of information between organisms, better 'modularity' in evolution, role for viral-mediated horizontal gene transfer, etc. Now, the question to ask is - what does it mean when organisms break the roles? Perhaps they belong to a different society with a different 'culture', or perhaps they are lone explorers who do not want to interact with the rest of the system.