Small is beautiful

‘Small is beautiful’,as the saying goes. Yes,indeed – but when one considers molecular sized machines which constitute the very basis of life, one would surely exclaim that ‘small is indeed amazing,wonderful,and even mysterious in many ways’! Let me elaborate this point further:
I am sure all of us have heard of ROBOTS. They are man made gadgets which are programmed to undertake specific tasks mechanically. But how many of us have heard of NANOBOTS? Probably not many, unless one is a biologist. Some of us might have heard of nanotechnology which deals with building tiny molecular sized machines. The word NANO basically refers to something very very tiny which is of the order of 10 to the power of minus 9 meters.

NANOBOTS are the biological equivalents of ROBOTS with two main differences – namely that they are quite tiny and secondly they are self-assembled and are self-replicating.
To understand what a NANOBOT is let us first look at the basis of life. Cells are present in all life forms and these cells are made up of the so called NANOBOTS(nano sized robots). In simple terms they are tiny machines which are meant for performing certain tasks – some simple and some complex.
To take a familiar example Hemoglobin which is part of our Red blood Cell is a NANOBOT which has a main function of picking up oxygen from lungs and transporting and dropping off oxygen at various parts of our body. Scientists discovered that the entire functioning of hemoglobin is akin to a ROBOT in the sense that both essentially function through mechanical parts and operate on principles of mechanics.

Just what constitutes these molecular machines? The answer is Proteins. Proteins are literally the levers,gears,nuts,bolts,screws,circuits etc of a NANOBOT.
A Protein is a chain made up of small molecules known as ‘amino acids’ and can take several possible shapes. The entire blue print for making proteins and their self assembly instructions are essentially contained in the genes.
Some proteins act as gate keepers,some act as timing devices,some work as tiny trucks carrying supplies to different parts of the cell etc. One can easily appreciate that each one of these tasks is quite complex for a real world ROBOT to accomplish in our practical world.
Unlike ROBOTS,NANOBOTS function as automatic machines with self programming. In other words,they carry out their designated tasks all the time(24 by 7) without being instructed. In fact,if they do not do so,the life process would stop automatically. Just imagine what would happen if hemoglobin were to forget to transport oxygen for a few minutes. There would be total chaos and breakdown of the biological system for sure! Ironically, most of us are not even conscious of the fact that we are the rightful owners of thousands of such priceless imolecular machines present within.

Why am I writing about biology and NANOBOTS of all things? Cutting edge science always fascinated me from two points of view: The passion with which man explores into the very depths of life processes is incredible. Secondly,there is always a philosopher’s perspective in all this. Philosophers have always maintained that there is a universe without and a universe within(the macrocosm & the microcosm).Man has just about started(during the past two centuries) to unravel the deep mysteries of both universes.
And I believe that an appreciation of science behind such complexities of nature,even if it is in simple layman’s language, will sensitize us to appreciate areas of convergence between the two cultures – the science culture and the culture of religion.

Therefore,expect some more posts on the above lines.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 5:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hi,

    Very informational and interesting. Unraveling mysteries of life is certainly important for both science and religion.


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