In graduate school I loved spending time in the library, walking around “the stacks.”
Admittedly, I am a geek, but strolling up and down the library aisles, surrounded by rows of bound journals, was a borderline religious experience for me. I’d often think to myself, “Here I am immersed in a vast body of knowledge and all I have to do is grab a volume off the shelf to obtain that knowledge for myself.”
Libraries truly are a marvel. They contain more information than any one person could master in a lifetime. Yet, everything housed in a library is readily accessible because the information is organized for easy retrieval. And as recent research by Yale University scientists attests,1 a library’s organization system provides an apt metaphor for the way cell information is stored and utilized.
The Yale investigators uncovered some of the first evidence for the spatial organization of the biochemical information inside bacteria. Their discovery adds to the mounting evidence for biochemical complexity in Earth’s simplest life-forms, which helps buttress the case for intelligent design.
Like stacks in a library, DNA houses all the information required for the cell’s machinery to form the subcellular structures and carry out the operation necessary for life. DNA can also be likened to reference materials that never leave the library. When the cell’s machinery needs information from DNA, it must a copy of the information through a process called transcription. [Messenger RNA](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messenger_RNA) (mRNA) molecules are the product of transcription. Once formed, mRNA delivers the information copies to subcellular particles called ribosomes. Then, in a process called translation, the information temporarily harbored in mRNA directs the production of proteins.
Spatial Organization of Information in Complex Cells
Within the cells that comprise eukaryotic organisms (such as plants, animals, and fungi), mRNA is transported to specific locations. Eukaryotic cells also run processes that degrade mRNA molecules in a site-specific manner. These activities result in spatial organization of mRNA molecules (and the proteins they specify) within the cell.
Spatial Organization of Information in Bacteria
Traditionally, life scientists didn’t think this type of spatial organization existed in bacteria because of these microbes’ simplicity. They assumed that once produced, mRNA molecules diffused freely throughout the cell and that protein production took place randomly in no specific location.
Now the Yale scientists’ research indicates that the traditional view is incorrect. Spatial organization of mRNA also characterizes bacterial biochemistry. The researchers used methods that allowed them to visualize and quantify different mRNA molecules. Through this approach, they learned that, once produced, mRNA molecules don’t diffuse away from the bacterial DNA. Instead, these molecules remain nearby, directing the production of proteins at that same location.
It turns out the bacterial DNA serves as a template for organizing the subcellular distribution of mRNA molecules (and, consequently, the proteins). By analogy, books addressing the same topic are located next to each other in the library. Similarly, in bacteria the genes that encode proteins that work together to carry out a specific metabolic function or combine to form a specific structure are frequently juxtaposed along the DNA molecule. These adjacent genes are called operons.
The operon structure and the limited diffusion of mRNA molecules ensure the proteins that work together are produced in the same location within the cell—an elegant and efficient strategy, indeed.
Bacterial Information and the Supernatural Librarian
Exquisite organization of the biochemical information in bacteria highlights the complexity of some of Earth’s simplest life-forms. It also indicates that these organisms are the work of a Mind. As I noted last week, organization and order don’t result by accident but by expending energy to execute a well-thought-out plan. In my book The Cell’s Design and elsewhere, I note that the elegant structure of biochemical information also points to the work of a Creator.
It is clear that the spatial organization of information in a library reflects the work of librarians. Doesn’t it make sense to conclude the same thing about the spatial organization of biochemical information inside the cell?
1. Paula Montero Llopis et al., “Spatial Organization of the Flow of Genetic Information in Bacteria,” Nature 466 (July 1, 2010): 77–81 .