Thursday, June 19, 2008
Adventures in Tiny Land
Textbook illustrations, while fantastic, tend to depict cellular biology as if it were a Nerf product. The purple football clumps up with some orange ping-pong balls and... well, y'know, stuff happens. DNA replication! Ta-da!
These videos are something else entirely. I watch them, and my thoughts turn inward to my own body and the maelstrom of my own cellular activity. They convey the speed and the complexity in a way that the Nerf diagrams never have. I don't think I actually understood Okazaki fragments until I saw this video... and Okazaki fragments are one of my favorites.
What's more, the structures in these animations look alive. Despite the voice-over description, they remind me as much of sea creatures as machines. I see them doing rather than simply functioning. This is life.
According to a site called Teacher's Domain (thanks Google!), cells are replicated approximately 50 Billion times a day.... According to Wikipedia, that's 10,000 Trillion cell divisions in an average human lifetime.
I wouldn't know a single trillion if it came to my door and tried to sell me cookies. 10,000 trillion? I can't even begin to imagine. Multiply that by the 46 chromosomes in each cell and that's 460,000,000,000,000,000 replications (give or take). That doesn't even include RNA transcription or translation, let alone any of the countless other cellular activities. My mind simply quits when I try to image all this activity in every cell of my body going on all the time, day and night, even when I sleep.
I love it.
After viewing the YouTube video above, I recommend zipping over to the website of the Walter And Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the clever Aussies that came up with these animations. There are roughly a dozen animations that are available to download or stream. My favorite is called "The Central Dogma: Translation of RNA to Protein." It's like the rail car scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom...
Image Credits: Diagram fromMrs. Muskopf's Bio4A website; Old Lady Girl Scout from Greystone Design via Dumb Criminals; Indiana Jones screenshots via The Raider Net