|A cell knows what to do because it is programed to
do what it do. But, what or who programed the cell
or any other unconsciousness life to know what to
do? I mean, how the atoms of the first living
thing know how to be arranged to construct this
|Question Date: 2014-01-10|
I think your question reflects a problems with
the way we “tell stories” to help students
understand and remember concepts. A cell does
not “know” what to do any more than a cloud
“knows” what it’s doing. However, people
understand and remember stories that have actors,
so telling this kind of story can be helpful.
(Pretending that non-human things have human
characteristics is called “anthropomorphism”).
For example, I might tell my students that a plant
growing in a hot dry climate “wants to keep its
stomata closed as much as it can so that it
doesn’t dry out.” I don’t really think the plant
“wants” anything; it’s just a shortcut for
saying that plants that keep their stomata closed
as much as possible in hot dry climates tend to
leave comparatively more offspring than plants
that do not.
Atoms do not “know” how to line up,
their interactions occur as a result of forces
like attractions between opposite charges. Many
different molecules form on their own, but very
few are self-replicating. DNA is. I don’t really
have the time or space to get into the entire
history of life, but DNA acts as a pattern for its
“mirror image,” which can then act as a pattern
for the original. No outside intelligence is
needed, it is just due to forces within and
between molecules. Cells do what they do because
DNA can be used to make proteins that make the
cell and control its actions. This is similar to
the way a cloud forms, moves, and rains without
any outside programming or will of its own.
This is a fantastic question because it means
you are really trying to understand big questions.
There are many areas of science and philosophy
that you might want to explore.
Thanks for asking,
Good question. It's still a mystery just how
life got started.
Life, from what we can tell, is a chemical
reaction. The "programming" of life is just what
those chemicals do in the right amounts and in the
right temperature, etc. This would imply that if
you got all of the right chemicals together int he
right amounts by sheer chance, you would get life.
However, the first life that could have formed by
such random interactions had to have been much
simpler than even the simplest forms of life on
the planet today, and even so no scientist has
been able to make it happen in the laboratory. We
don't know how it happened.
This is an excellent question, and it's a
question that we know a fair bit about, but there
are a lot of specific details that people are
still working to figure out right now. In general
though, the instructions that tell a cell what to
do are encoded in the cell's DNA. The process by
which it carries out these instructions follows
from the laws of nature, biology, chemistry and
physics. Essentially, all the functions of a cell
are carried out by proteins, which are generally
large molecules with a particular shape. These
protein molecules are long chains that are folded
in such a way as to develop a very particular
shape that can help it do its job. These proteins
do everything from helping you move your muscles
to helping regulate the healthy functioning of a
cell. The instructions for making the proteins are
written into the DNA. In reality, the information
in the DNA needs to be rewritten into RNA (a
similar code, but using a slightly different
language, so to speak). The code in the RNA is
then "read" by ribosomes (other molecular machines
made in a similar but slightly different way).
These ribosomes read the code and start making the
protein one piece at a time. The protein then
begins folding in on itself to develop the shape
it needs to fulfill it's job. There are a lot of
details I'm glossing over here, but in general,
that's how it works. This process is called the
central dogma of biology and you can read more
about it here.
here to read
As I've said, there are a lot of details still
being worked out, but in general, molecules come
together and interact through the usual physical
and chemical laws that we know to produce all of
the effects we see in biology today.
How all of this got started is another
question, but the idea is that there are some
molecules, that when put together, naturally start
replicating themselves. For a more in depth
treatment of this, you can watch this video:
here to watch video which has lots of
information on this subject and more.
That's a fantastic question. A lot of times we
use words like "programmed" or "designed" to
describe how things like cells, and bodies
operate. But this is a little misleading because,
really, nobody sat down and planned out how it the
cell was going to work, but rather the cell
evolved. This means essentially that a very very
long process of trial and error and some good luck
occurred over millions of years to develop the
cell as it is today. All the cells that operated
poorly or inefficiently died out over this
incredibly long time period while the best model
to date is the one that we get to study today.
This is a process called natural selection, and is
the theory that the vast majority of scientists
use to explain how organisms came to be the way we
see them now.
The cells of the first organisms on the planet
probably looked a tremendously different and a lot
less complicated than today's cells. But the
organisms that those cells created were also much
less complicated and underwent many changes and
mutations. The mutations that were unfavorable
died out and the ones that were favorable
survived. This process repeated itself over and
over until present day, and it will continue into
the future for as long as life on Earth continues.
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