Fri, 21 May 2004

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wind in the door

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I have decided to speed through Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet (which starts off with A Wrinkle in Time[Amazon][previous blog entry]) The first three books were written in the '60's and '70's (pretty much before I was born) and the level of biological knowledge in A Wind in the Door is kind of intriguing. For one thing, it gives me some insight on my own uninformed assumptions about the history of molecular biology. Considering that Rosalind Franklin just discovered the structure of DNA in the '50's by X-ray crystallography, I imagine that the electron microscope was pretty damn new in the '60's. While mitochondria are visible by light microscopy, for some reason, I imagine that molecular biochemistry was not advanced enough to figure out the precise mechanism by which ATP is created by these little symbiotes.

But, long story short, I am somewhat astounded that what L'Engle wrote about mitochondria and the putative farandolae is certainly not outdated. I remember when I was in grade school and first read A Wind in the Door, my only source of definition for what a mitochondrion was was the dictionary, and it gave me a really vague definition. But, perhaps a decade later, after earning a degree in molecular biology and (soon) earning a degree in medicine, mitochondria have become something to take for granted.

Not that we know everything about them. There are certainly some deep mysteries left.

But, interestingly, while the farandolae seem to be a McGuffin invented by L'Engle, there is actually a (very crucial) molecule that seems very close to L'Engle's artistic description: the F0F1-complex, also known as ATP synthetase. This molecule has often been cited as an example of the anti-Darwinian model of "intelligent design" considering the machine-like way it's put together. If we ever get that far, this is probably what nanotechnology is going to look like.

16:38:03 21 May 2004 > /books > permalink > 5 comments

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