…the complexity of simplicity

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

Many discoveries in molecular biology have been pioneered in model organisms that are easily and economically grown and, most importantly, are unlikely to threaten the life of the investigator. Such model organisms include; bacteria, yeasts, rodents, amphibians and several plant species, such as Arabidopsis (small flowering plant), members of the potato family, grasses and, following Mendel’s example (see previous post), legumes such as peas or beans. From all of these species, yeast has affectionately been dubbed the workhorse of molecular biology, playing a prominent role in leading to a greater understanding of biological science at the molecular level.

Several characteristics of the DNA molecule and genetic inheritance have been researched through first observing the physiology of yeast mutants. The impact that yeast has had in molecular research was largely due to the emergence of apparatus that could visualise the microscopic universe in which it resides. Early researchers, on first observing these minuscule yeast cells, thought that they appeared to just materialise from substances in their immediate surroundings, this led to the dubious theory of ‘spontaneous generation’. In many ways they were correct, yeast cells do rely on nutrients from the immediate environment in order to multiply. However even the tiniest of cells requires a precise organisation that takes centuries to evolve.

A yeast cell is now known to contain over 6,000 genes encoded by DNA that is organised within sixteen chromosomes. Not all the DNA provides the genetic code to synthesise components for the cell; some plays a structural role and also adds to overall mass rather like packaging material helping to organise the DNA into chromosomes. DNA containing genetic information is neatly condensed into chromosomes which are stored in a nucleus surrounded by cytoplasm enclosed within a cell membrane protected by a carbohydrate cell wall. Hundreds of proteins and metabolic pathways are involved in maintaining the homeostasis of the yeast cell.

Yeast cells viewed by electron microscopy. A condensed nucleus can be seen near the centre in some cells. The contents of each cell are contained within a protective cell wall.

Even the most simple of cells are derived from a great deal of natural complexity. Today theories of spontaneous generation appear ludicrous, as through microscopy, the precise mechanisms which lead to cell division have now been realised.  A long process of evolution  must have given rise to this degree of intricacy. Such complexity could not have been generated purely by chance. In the order of the Universe every process is known to follow certain physical laws, where biological events occur at random rather than by chance. As Stephen Hawking eloquently said:

The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.

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