Our Fingers Are Too Big

by | Mar 6, 2017

The field of electronics deals with devices in the nm range, which is the same size range of proteins.  But there are several differences between ultra-small electronic entities compared to life molecules.  Electronic chips are layered two dimensional, static devices, compared to life molecules that, in the living condition moving around in all three dimensions.  The other big difference is that even though the electronic structures at these dimensions are hard to see, the designs normally supply test points that allow the engineer to discern what is happening at the small dimensions by electrical measurements.  The point is that we do not have the means to track exactly what is happening inside the cell because “our fingers are too large” and we cannot see or probe inside the cell walls to “reverse engineer” the life process.

The assumption is that much of the structure of the molecules in the cell are discerned by scanning electron microscopes, which, I think only work with dead biological material.  This would be very limiting, it would seem.  However there appears to be other devices that claim to have “high-speed imaging, in vivo” capability, a multiphoton laser scanning microscope and more recently a new sub-optical phonon (sound) imaging technique.  An inherent problem is that the objects of interest are as small or smaller than the wavelengths of observation radiation and the energy involved can cause damage.  It is hard to tell how much detail understanding of the process going on inside the cell can be discerned from the tools available today.

However, the bio-medical field is doing amazing things involving manipulating the genome.  This engineer is clueless how these feats are accomplished.  The assumption is that researchers are learning how to use the cellular machinery to achieve their own purposes.  This is a scary prospect as it is obvious that the overall understanding of the process control system in the cell is very limited.  In addition, the lack of knowledge of process control in general leads to the prospect of not appreciating the probable interrelationships between the numerous control loops that must exist in the cell.  This could lead to unintended consequences, some which could be very subtle.

It would seem to this engineer that the best possibility to learn about the process control system in the cell is by indirect means using the techniques of DNA manipulation, correlating changes made to cell operation.  Understanding life, it seems, depends heavily upon gaining an in-depth knowledge of the control system.

© 2016 Mike Van Schoiack

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