Biomimicry Cell biology Intelligent Design

Suzan Mazur asks: How far have we gotten in understanding the mechanome?

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The mechanome is the underresearched “ the set of proteins or molecular entities that sense or respond to forces” within the cell (Allen Liu). Our earlier stab at the subject here at UD garnered 354 comments, so there’s no shortage of interest. The mechanome (and mechanobiology in general) plays a key role in research into artificial cells.

Suzan Mazur is the author of The Paradigm Shifters: Overthrowing ‘the Hegemony of the Culture of Darwin’. Suzan Mazur talks to mechanical and biomedical engineer Allen Liu, one of the people best placed to offer some insights:

 

Suzan Mazur: The Liu Lab at the University of Michigan is particularly interested in the mechanobiology of the cell lipid membrane. Would you briefly describe your hypothesis about cell tension and membrane trafficking and the significance of this in building an artificial cell?

Allen Liu: The hypothesis is currently more relevant to living cells. At the moment it would be a bit difficult to extrapolate that for synthetic or artificial cells.

We are building mechanosensitive cells—artificial cells that will basically respond to mechanical forces. In this case, we are mimicking the basic process that cells can sense and respond to forces. This is work we’ve done on our own as well as in collaboration with Vincent Noireaux at the University of Minnesota.

Basically, we are incorporating channel proteins that are known to respond to membrane tension in the bilayer. If we incorporate this successfully, the artificial cell senses elevated membrane tension and will open. A pore, like a little door, enables molecules to go in and out. We’re writing this paper up now. More.

Suzan Mazur, “On the Frontline: Allen Liu—the Mechanome and Synthetic Cell Development” at Oscillations

We’ll keep watching the file.

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See also: Rethinking biology: What role does physical structure play in the development of cells?

6 Replies to “Suzan Mazur asks: How far have we gotten in understanding the mechanome?

  1. 1
    jawa says:

    This is a very interesting topic indeed.
    Thanks.

  2. 2
    Tom Robbins says:

    Thank You!

  3. 3
    Tom Robbins says:

    I absolutley love the title and subtitle of Suzan’s book – the subtitle is perfect! “Overthrowing he Hegemony of the CULTURE of Darwin”. You have to love that as it hits right at the heart of the problem.

    Also one gets the feeling this is already well underway with the new breed of Microbiologists, other specialties, and even some radical evolutionary Biologist, bent on acknowledging the immense complexity of single celled life and networks, feedback loops, and cooperation between cells in multicellular life, actually acknowledging they have no answers for the arrival of new body plans, or genes, let alone the “fittest”.

    I think many (not the majority but many) have realized the ridiculous story telling that made Dawkins so famous – one in particular I remember reading that made me want to fall out of my chair laughing, just won’t cut it anymore:

    Dawkins, quite the elegant writer, describing how a flying squirrel COULD have come about, but a mutation that increased the surface area of the flabby connective tissue between its arms and shoulders, that let it survive a fall from a height he called X, then more random mutations that increased this fleshy part more that allowed the squirrel like creature to now survive a fall from a height of X+1, and on and on until you have a flying squirrel!! Never mind the complex neural changes required, including but not limited to, at some point, learning the intricate skills and movements required for precision gliding without hitting a tree or the ground, and somehow passing this down to its progeny – all through lucky changes, hoping the squirrel does not die out I suppose from all the deaths from what had to be a lot of tragic “falls” from trees – yeah we see how often normal squirrels fall and die on the ground – they are all over the place – LOL!

    I could never get over how people ate this stuff up, with absolutley zero evidence this could work, and tons of evidence that the “comatose watchmaker” had no goal in mind and so could not accumulate just the right random mutations, but other than the skin flap stayed squirrel like – obviously fooling readers that somehow natural selection was inventive, could wait around hundreds of thousands of years for another lucky skin flap mutation before all the squirrels died from falls!! I thought to myself, this is the “Brilliant” Richard Dawkins????

    It seems a solid group of new Biologists, are either consciously or subconsciously assuming purpose and design and doing the actual hard work of painstakingly mapping out how each specialized part of the cell contributes to the whole, all with a more top down philosophy of describing life. They are noticing when they assume design, they make huge progress. At least this is the feeling I get from the plethora of new quite shocking breakthroughs, that have nothing to do with random anything.

    In other words, I think books like this, and the closed door meetings in the UK and other countries, about the need for a replacement of the mutation selection mechanism, which at best can restore some protein function by re-adding a not so great, “floppy” amino acid that at least gives it a better fold, BUT can never INVENT any new novilty.

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    TR

    … but a mutation that increased the surface area of the flabby connective tissue between its arms and shoulders, that let it survive a fall from a height he called X

    I recall this storytelling from Dawkins and people actually believing it.

    At the height of X, a fall from the trees will kill every squirrel. But then there’s one with some flabby underarms and that is enough supposedly to allow that squirrel to live?

    An overgrowth of skin is not going to break a fall that will kill any other squirrel.

    We should also continue to see squirrels falling out of trees and dying. But that doesn’t happen.

  5. 5
    Tom Robbins says:

    Silver Asiatic EXACTLY!!! I simply could not believe that people ate this stuff up – his books were filled with stories like this, but they only told a story of HOW it would HAVE to happen if it were a real mechanism. I totally agree, why would an rodent climb a tree, if it were not adapted to tree climbing to begin with? They would be the most clumsy and hilarious animals ever – darting up a tree, somehow getting to hight X, then falling and killing themselves??? I suppose because their food source was not in the trees? I am sure they would have simply adapted their diet Rather than become hang gliders over such a long period of time, that the environment and food source would be totally different by the time it “adapted” by random means. To me, NOTHING in life is random, nothing.

    A bit of critical thinking though, and you realize the pure absurdity of this. All Darwin, and Dawkins really have said, since random mutation and selection have been shown to be pretty much worthless as an inventor of functional complex, or even relatively simple novelty, is that organisms that are more fit tend to survive – Well NO KIDDING – but now we know that fitness in Bacteria to Finch beaks, is more like a toolkit already present to the organism. Switching networks switch on “genes” In variable quantities, to suit the environment, but when the environment changes back, so do all but the most trivial of changes return to a baseline – rapid cycling, that can go either way. Totally destroying all the main tenets of the “thoery”.

    As a matter of fact – a couple papers I have read, make the case that Finch beaks, who’s thickness or narrowness is controlled by a hormone are most likely EPIGENETIC – so the beak changes in response to current conditions, and it is passed down to offspring as methylated areas of the genome – the SAME seems to be true for almost all genetic changes in populations of bacteria, exposed to all kinds of mutagenic environments, once they are returned to their “normal” environment, all of the important changes go back to a baseline as well.

  6. 6
    timothya says:

    Tom Robbins:

    “As a matter of fact – a couple papers I have read, make the case that Finch beaks, who’s thickness or narrowness is controlled by a hormone are most likely EPIGENETIC – so the beak changes in response to current conditions, and it is passed down to offspring as methylated areas of the genome – the SAME seems to be true for almost all genetic changes in populations of bacteria, exposed to all kinds of mutagenic environments, once they are returned to their “normal” environment, all of the important changes go back to a baseline as well.”

    Could you provide references to the papers?

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