Friday, June 28, 2013

Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 17

I'll be back
There was a movie series about "The Rise of The Machines" accentuating the myth of machines arising to take control of biological species, specifically the human species.

The basic theme and plot is that in the future machines will become sentient or the like, and will seek to have control over humans, who up to that time in history always had control over machines.

That theme and plot is, in many aspects, a very narrow and uninformed view of evolution --especially in the sense of "which came first, machines or biological organisms?"

Current scientific thinking, in terms of cosmological and biological evolution, begins with the Big Bang theory of cosmology, then winds its way very slowly into stellar evolution, leading eventually to the development of carbon within stars, then the release of that carbon into space upon the demise of stars, and finally the concentration of that carbon and other elements to form planets which became platforms that eventually gave rise to an environment for carbon based life forms to evolve (Putting A Face On Machine Mutation - 3; see also The Life and Death of Bright Things and Did Abiotic Intelligence Precede Biotic Intelligence?).

There have been various Dredd Blog discussions over the years concerning the nomenclature, word evolution, and morph of word meaning concerning machines, robots, cyborgs, and biological organisms (see e.g. Which Came First - Cyborg Or Robot? - 2 and Which Came First - Cyborg Or Robot?).

Note, so that you don't let bias control as you read this post, that the original parts of words, the words themselves, as well as the original meanings of those words came from a time prior to modern science.

Yes, those words and meanings came before the development of Big Bang Cosmology and quantum physics, but also came prior to a host of other revolutionary scientific enlightenments which we now take for granted.

Politics and/or class dynamics can also be a factor in scientific notions (Rich 'May Evolve into Separate Species'; cf. The Criminally Insane Epoch Arises - 2 -where it discusses Eugenics).

Before we get into very much of that, let's take a look at a quote from a recent scientific paper (27-Jun-2013) that is related to the subject of this weekend's rebel science post, and one that sets the stage with some basic background:
According to Dr. Enríquez, lead investigator on the study, "Understanding how cells generate energy is fundamental to understanding living systems, and for much of the last century this was a primary object of studies in biochemistry. By the beginning of the 80s the mystery of how mitochondria achieve this task was thought to be solved, and in the 90s the molecular structures responsible were resolved in incredible detail. This was considered to be one of the best understood processes in the cell."

This view was overturned by the description of mitochondrial diseases. Despite the impressive accumulation of knowledge of mitochondrial function, the models could not explain the symptoms of these diseases, and researchers were unable to predict who would develop these diseases or how severe they would be, or explain their origin and mechanism. As a consequence, it has not been possible to develop effective treatments.

This situation revealed that our knowledge of mitochondrial function was much less complete than had been believed and that our models were inadequate. Therefore research over the last ten years has been directed at providing a better understanding of this process.
(Researchers Reformulate the Model, original here). Ok, so our science had a blind spot that crippled our ability to forge knowledge into practical uses.

That paper goes on to reveal a major discovery which is instructive as to how cells function:
The new study confirms the model proposed in 2008 by the group led by Dr. Enríquez, who affirms that "this redefines our view of one of the most basic processes for life in all cells."

The energy released from the rupture of chemical bonds in food molecules is stored temporarily in the form of high energy electrons in two types of molecule, N and F, whose proportions vary depending on the nutrient source. By themselves, these molecules cannot provide a freely utilizable source of rapidly mobilized energy for the cell's needs; access to this stored energy requires the mitochondria, which uses five molecular machines, called complexes I, II, III, IV and V, to convert the energy stored in N and F molecules into the universal energy source ATP.
(ibid, emphasis added). The "five molecular machines" are used by what we call biological entities, i.e. "mitochondria."

Those mitochondria exist within other biological entities, i.e. "cells," and use "five molecular machines" to store and later retrieve energy ---in what we could also describe as "the tiniest batteries."

Our culture does not consider "cell battery", "cell phone battery", or "battery cell" to be science fiction terms, because we use those words and those gadgets every day.

What does sound like science fiction is "molecular machines" which are used to convert energy in "molecular batteries" into useful purposes within a living biological cell.

But regular readers know that the Dredd Blog System has been talking about these "molecular machines" as reality for several years now:
Looking at it that way, the machines are at the foundation of biological organisms aren't they? We are in a sense cyborg, then, because we are both machine and organic." (2/14/09)
"Our cells, and the cells of all organisms, are composed of molecular machines. These machines are built of component parts, each of which contributes a partial function or structural element to the machine. How such sophisticated, multi-component machines could evolve has been somewhat mysterious, and highly controversial." Professor Lithgow said." (9/25/09).
Dr Clarke said: “There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many people think they are questions about biology. But for life to have evolved, you have to have a moment when non-living things become livingeverything up to that point is chemistry.”
"Many cellular processes are carried out by molecular ‘machines’ — assemblies of multiple differentiated proteins that physically interact to execute biological functions ... Our experiments show that increased complexity in an essential molecular machine evolved because of simple, high-probability evolutionary processes, without the apparent evolution of novel functions. They point to a plausible mechanism for the evolution of complexity in other multi-paralogue protein complexes." (4/10/12)
"Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the team from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences show how they studied the molecular machine known as the 'type II bacterial secretion system', which is responsible for delivering potent toxins from bacteria such as enterotoxigenic E. coli and Vibrio cholerae into an infected individual.

Professor Richard Pickersgill, who led the research, said: "Bacterial secretion systems deliver disease causing toxins into host tissue. If we can understand how these machines work, then we can work out how it they might be stopped." (4/10/12)
"The most complex molecular machines are found within cells." (ibid)
I think that suffices to get the point across, which is, that single cells within organisms are in fact composed of both machine and biological components.

The point is also applicable to the oldest life forms, microbes, which also use molecular machines: "Our cells, and the cells of all organisms, are composed of molecular machines" (quoted above, see also The Tiniest Scientists Are Very Old - 2).

Have a good weekend.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting dynamic in the "Terminator 3" movie is that the machines that were Terminators only used biological life as a covering (camouflage).

    When they got into a fire it could burn off the biological cover camouflage without impairing the functioning of the Terminator.

    So, they were robots posing as human, that is, they were not true cyborgs.

    The liquid-metal Terminators that were developed by the machines after those earlier biological-cover robot Terminators, had no biological components.

    They used shape-shifting liquid-metal camouflage in place of biological material.

    The current cosmos, with stars that will burn up the biological material on planets near them when they go Nova or Supernova (near the end of their cycle), is similar to the earlier Terminators in the sense that the machine state of the cosmos will still function unimpaired by the removal-by-fire of the biological species.