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Origin of life: But how do cells come to have “borders” at all?


Inanimate objects don’t have “borders” because they need not defend themselves against anything. Boulders don’t care if they end up as sand.

And yet:

Border control is very important to cells. Their membranes separate the inner and outer environments, which are quite different. To absorb useful compounds, such as nutrients, or to excrete waste, cells can use selective transport systems. However, some transport across the membrane takes place by passive diffusion. This is a non-selective process that will let some molecules go in or out, depending on their size and hydrophobicity, for example. Active transporters have been studied extensively; however, our knowledge of passive diffusion through the membrane is still very incomplete…

Poolman and his colleagues have, therefore, defined a number of variables that alter the permeability of membranes for different classes of compounds. This information can be used by companies that use yeasts or bacteria as cell factories. ‘However, our results cannot be directly applied to those cells,’ warns Poolman. ‘Real membranes contain hundreds of different lipids and the composition can vary between different locations in the membrane. In addition, these cell membranes contain all kinds of proteins. If you make changes in, for example, the lipid composition of the membrane, a lot can go wrong and the function of a membrane protein can be affected.’

University of Groningen, “How cells control their borders” at ScienceDaily (March 28, 2022)

Yes, it’s very complex. But having a membrane at all suggests that something is different about life that can’t be explained by the various “It all just happened” scenarios we often hear about how life got started. How did life forms decide they wanted to protect themselves?

It’s becoming easier all the time to see why many scientists who are not theists have become panpsychists.

The paper is open access.

You may also wish to read: Why do many scientists see cells as intelligent? Bacteria appear to show intelligent behavior. But what about individual cells in our bodies?

It's not just defense. Cell borders are not fortress walls. They're more like port facilities with import terminals, export terminals, and immigration centers. The border insures that every imported molecule and immigrant gene boosts the internal economy of the cell. (Unlike modern national borders, which serve the opposite purpose.) polistra

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