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The Human Biological Machine

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Collage of several of Gray's muscle pictures, ...

Collage of several of Gray’s muscle pictures, by Mikael Häggström (User:Mikael Häggström) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are human beings. Great thinkers! The only animal to shape their environment and build technologies. We have evolved a lot since the first mammals took foot but we are biological machines. Our cells are independent of each other but communicate with each other. The body gives a place to build organs, muscle and brain that helps provide each cell what they need to do their job. They have many signals as inputs (some are epigenetic signals). They must decide to accept or reject inputs based on their environment. Muscles cells will always build more muscle cells (the same is true of each different type of cell in our bodies). Over 10 trillion of these tiny thinking machines make us human. Other animals have nearly the same DNA as we do, similar brain structures. Their cells do similar things but they did not evolve into humans. Our epigenetic signals is what makes us human! Like a computer with a common Intel chip set, we can have simple programs or unbelievably smart ones. The difference is the software (how the Intel chip set is “played”). Our DNA is like the chip set and it is “played” by epigenetic signals.

What are these signals? They are hormone, nutrients from the food we eat, signals from our brain based on how we think, etc. Is your epigentic signals playing Chopin or chopsticks?

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What makes us different from Neanderthal Man?

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Deutsch: Rekonstruierter Neandertaler im Neand...

Deutsch: Rekonstruierter Neandertaler im Neanderthal-Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This video is about a study of Neanderthal DNA and how their genome differed from ours. The differences are important since chimps are our closest living relatives. Neanderthal was much closer in capabilities so the differences will be interesting to discover. I have one problem in thinking DNA is the sole cause of our differences. That is that epigenetics plays a major role. Chimps have mostly the same DNA as we do but their epigenetics is very different. It is similar to a MAC and a PC running on the same Intel Chip. The hardware (DNA) is the same but the systems are very different in their implementation of that hardware. Neanderthal might have a very similar genome to us but a very different epigenome. Time will tell.

We are Just Mammals

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Lonely Monkey Ape at Zoo

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Our DNA is almost the same as most mammals. If that is so, what makes humans human and apes an ape? For the longest time we believed it was genetics but we now know the genetics are similar so it can’t be just in the genes. Epigenetics would seem to be what makes us what we are. It plays different genes differently in different mammals. This will be an interesting field to follow over the coming years.

Our DNA is Crowded into the Cell Nucleus like a Crowded NY Subway Train

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From left to right, the structures of A, B and...

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It astonishes me that our DNA is about 2 meters in length but fits in a cell only a few micrometers in size. How is this possible? It turns out our DNA is spooled and folded in ways that compact it into its very tight home. This means to activate or turn on a gene (piece of DNA), it must be unfolded and un-spooled first. This is a complex process that seems more like the workings of our home computer than our bodies. There is no doubt, in mind anyway, that we are programmed. We respond to our environment in ways we never dreamed of. As scientists search for life in more hostile environments it is clear we have to think very differently. If we were to send a spaceship to many different planets and satellites in search of life, what would be onboard? Any robot we build would survive only in a small number of environments. We wouldn’t know what those environments were until we got there. Imagine a nanorobotic device that can build a robot based on the environment it finds. It adapts to specifics as it goes. This would give the highest possibility of survival for the robotic on a foreign hostile planet. It is NOT farfetched to imagine that life here started in a similar way. These cells would grouped together and communicated as they evolved into more complex creatures. Interacting with ones environment would raise the possibility of survival.

DNAs Genius is in its Details

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Microsoft Windows Updates

Image by adria.richards via Flickr

Scientists have often wondered how DNA organized into only 30,000 to 40,000 genes (programs) could build something as complex as humans. It does seem strange at first sight but we have a man-made example that is very similar … computers! A typical computer contains around 100 to 200 instructions. These are mathematical, logical, moves and compares. How do these simple instructions get put together to form Windows, a photo editing software, movie editing software, games, etc. It seems hard to believe. Yet programmers constantly rearrange these instructions into new programs that do an endless number of tasks to help and amuse us. DNA is no different. Those 30,000 to 40,000 genes can be played (turned ON/OFF) in an endless number of ways to create different forms of life and to adapt to natures changing ways. We are adapting ever second of every day of our lives. Consider that most mammals have basically the same DNA as we do. They look and act very different from us. It is not what DNA you have but how you play it!

Are Humans Complex Organisms?

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"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), u...

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We humans seem to be very complex. We are capable of building technology. No other organism seems to be able to do that. Our genes do NOT reflect this complexity. Most mammals have similar genes to us. Plants have many more genes than we do. Maybe that is why they are so beneficial for us to eat. It appears brain size and technology have nothing to do with number of genes. Maybe genes are like a piano. The same piano can play noise when a child hits the keys or music when a pianist plays or great music when a very talented pianist hits those same keys. Maybe it’s not the number of keys that matter but how we play the ones we have. Our epigenetics is what plays our genetics. In the future we will see how critical this interaction is to being human. 

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