From “Researchers Watch Tiny Living Machines Self-Assemble” (ScienceDaily, June 11, 2012) , we learn,
“In order to survive, all creatures, from bacteria to humans, monitor and transform their environments using small protein nanomachines made of thousands of atoms,” explained the senior author of the study, Prof. Stephen Michnick of the university’s department of biochemistry. “For example, in our sinuses, there are complex receptor proteins that are activated in the presence of different odor molecules. Some of those scents warn us of danger; others tell us that food is nearby.”
Proteins are made of long linear chains of amino acids, which have evolved over millions of years to self-assemble extremely rapidly — often within thousandths of a split second — into a working nanomachine. “One of the main challenges for biochemists is to understand how these linear chains assemble into their correct structure given an astronomically large number of other possible forms,” Michnick said.
Michnick has to know, doesn’t he, that such a feat is impossible in that time span without some sort of program guiding or constraining the results. We need to know more about the – probably information-based – guidance and constraints on the system. In other words, intelligent design.
If you want to meet God, go to church and pray. If you want to understand how all this stuff works, stop expecting natural selection acting on random mutation to work probability-defying miracles, and study design theory. (If you want to be completely confused on both subjects, go to Biologos and be a Christian Darwinist.)
“To understand how a protein goes from a linear chain to a unique assembled structure, we need to capture snapshots of its shape at each stage of assembly said Dr. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, first author of the study. “The problem is that each step exists for a fleetingly short time and no available technique enables us to obtain precise structural information on these states within such a small time frame. We developed a strategy to monitor protein assembly by integrating fluorescent probes throughout the linear protein chain so that we could detect the structure of each stage of protein assembly, step by step to its final structure.”
The protein assembly process is not the end of its journey, as a protein can change, through chemical modifications or with age, to take on different forms and functions. “Understanding how a protein goes from being one thing to becoming another is the first step towards understanding and designing protein nanomachines for biotechnologies such as medical and environmental diagnostic sensors, drug synthesis of delivery,” Vallée-Bélisle said.
Which is why understanding the guidance and constraints that actually enable rapid development will turn out to be very useful.
Significantly, perhaps, the Prometheus movie – which fumbles around exploring some of the issues explicitly – came out this year.