From Cell to Orbit

Using super-resolution video, scientists have for the first time captured the swarming madness inside a single living cell. Yet something about the elegantly crazed motion strikes me as familiar.

An individual cell possesses somewhere on the order of 10,000 types of proteins and over 10 billion molecules.

Think about that.

All these bits of material in just one cell. And what’s more, all the molecules and minute structures are in constant, high-speed motion around each other performing highly-coordinated activities. Their insanely intricate dance–equal parts chemistry and shimmering–enables all of Life. And yet so little about the phenomenon is truly understood.

Of course I can’t even pretend to comprehend such complexity. But I did notice a very interesting similarity between the motions inside a cell and those inside the swarming cloud of mayflies I filmed for an earlier Wonderchew.

Might there be a connection?

It is tempting to think that the organizing factor for interactions of such dizzying complexity might be something akin to musical counterpoint. Wherein the motions of Life itself–from protein assembly to flocking starlings to galactic orbits–revolve around and align themselves with a central force, a universal rhythm. And from this guidance, take their particular form and shape.

Seeing the similarities between the swarming within the cell’s interior and the glistening mayflies does make me wonder if such a scheme might be at work somewhere behind it all–from the minute to the astronomical.

I’ll place both videos below so you can compare for yourself. (More comparisons to follow in future Chews.)

In the video below, Actin proteins (red) help a monkey cell create surface pockets (green) by which they can engulf nutrients from outside.

Credit: Li et al.  (SCIENCE 2015)

Compare the proteins’ dives and swirling above to those of the flies in the video below:

Photo Credit: time lapse of night sky, Astrophotographer and David Malin Awards finalist Matthew Vandeputte