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Bio 103, Week 11, Cells/life as ordered arrays of macromolecules

Paul Grobstein's picture

Glad you're here, to share explorations of life. If you're registered in Biology 103, remember to log in before posting here. Others are welcome to contribute without logging in. Such comments though will be checked to avoid spam postings and so be delayed in appearing.

In any case, remember that this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your own mind that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

You're free to write about anything that came into your mind this week. But if you need something to get you started, we've made it to "living things", ie cells.  What do you think of the idea that the properties of life can be accounted for in terms of ordered (improbable) assemblies of macromolecules?  A good story?
LaKesha's picture

Global Warming

I think that Global warming was a very interesting topic. I don't really pay a lot of attention to it, but it is a very important issue going on in the world today. No matter how much attention it is given, there are a lot of people who do not know what it is or how bad it really is. I think it is scary that we can cause so much damage to the environment and it makes me really consider whether or not humans will become extinct. Can we really stop global warming?


LuisanaT's picture

Can't we clean up our own mess?

In the same way that photosynthesis and aerobic cellular respiration work as a water wheel, can't the byproduct from mankind's overconsumption of food, excessive abuse of fossil fuels, etc be recycled as well? An end product from photosynthesis, oxygen, becomes readily avaliable to other organism who in turn utilize it and release carbon dioxide which the same plants then use. Here in essence, nothing is going to "waste." To folllow in suit, the mass amount of actual waste humans leave behind in the air, on the grass, or on the plate can easily be put to good use. If we can continue to manufacure smaller and more compact versions of the ipod and make "healthier" food in addition to the all of the nutritional food provided by mother earth, can't we think of more productive things to do with our waste? If anything, can we strive for the creation of something that functions like photosynthetic bacteria and plants that will ultilize the excess carbon dioxide in the air. Have we already begun? We need to finish this man made water wheel.

Catrina Mueller's picture

I really enjoyed the way the

I really enjoyed the way the we discussed the different energy cycles in class. The last time I had to learn them, I had to sit down in front of a paper and learn what happened at each step. The "improbability factor" (breaking something down so that something else can become/stay improbable) makes much more sense than memorizing random points of the photosynthesis cycle without really understanding what they are.
PS2007's picture

I, too, wonder if global

I, too, wonder if global warming can really be stopped or slowed down. If we're going to make real changes we need to get all the countries to cooperate with one another and form a plan. This does not realy seem possible. Even just within the United States most people do not agree. We are suppposed to be a forward thinking nation and we are spending money on wars instead of science. It will be interesting to see what role global warming, and other environmental issues, will play in the upcoming presidential election.
kharmon's picture

Before our discussion I

Before our discussion I never really took time to think about global warming. It's definitely a hot topic, but it was a bit of a "no-brainer" to me. Obviously, we should be taking care of our habitat because it's the only one we have. On the other hand, I also have to wonder whether or not global warming can honestly be stopped. I feel as though the consequences are out of sight and out of mind for most people, no matter how much media attention the issue is given. I thought a little bit about our discussion a few weeks back concerning the fossil record and the possibility of human extinction. At the rate we're going, it seems entirely possible and somewhat ironic because we're the ones actually doing the damage.
Kee Hyun Kim's picture

global warming...

The fundamental problem comes down to one issue.. How are we going to cap the emission of CO2 ( which will have to be done by reducing our dependency of fossil fuel.. )


as the difficulty in ratifying the tokyo treaty showed.. this will be no easy task for the international community to tackle..


With the BRICS countries rapid industrialization followed by other developing countries around the world, curbing the co2 emission will be very difficult.... ( i mean let alone convincing these nations.. we are having enough trouble convincing ourselves in reducing our dependency on fossil fuel)


However, i do not think the situation is hopeless. With events such as al gore winning the nobel prize, global warming seems to have gained a much larger eminence than they have every before...


i mean... barely 10-15 years ago, global warming was still contested at various levels and was even criticized as a over reaction by tofu eating liberals...


Considering how recycling started off as a weird thing that greenies do as a socially accepted custom, I think the same can be done with global warming. I believe with the recent rise in the awareness of this issue, far more people are now willing to make sacrifices, for their own sake if not for any other reason.  


OrganizedKhaos's picture

What I thought was

What I thought was interesting about our discussion in class this week was the idea of global warming and the increasing amount of carbon dioxide because of processes caused by humans. It links to the discussion of how humans can make probable things improbable. To see that we have such an effect on the environment is pretty remarkable and somewhat scary. There are those who believe global warming is a myth though. What's their argument?


andrelle's picture

I think that this idea of

I think that this idea of humans making the environment more impropable by striving to be more impropable is very interesting.  I think that it makes sense that the environment would have to adapt to these non-renewable sources that we are using.  then lifes becomes more impropable.  I think that at times we don't really consider how much influence we have on the environment and that is when you want into problems such as global warming.  The other thing is that because the effects that we have on the environment takes a while to show, when the effects does show its already too late.  This seems to be the case with global warming.
Shanika's picture

Our lab this week was

Our lab this week was entertaining and interesting. My group and i found that enviroment and genes do affect the growth and speed of growth of a plants. However, I strongly believ that enviroment affects the growth of a plant and how fast it grows more so than the genes. Genes, like the hair, do not have anything to do with the growth just how it looked. I find it hard to belive that the characteristics affects the growth because the enviroment plays more of a factor in its growth accroding to our data.

kgould's picture

can global warming be "stopped?"

i thought our discussion about global warming was interesting. it was a topic covered extensively in high school, so i knew a lot of the details already... but i do have one big question: can global warming actually be "stopped?" i know there are a lot of preventative measures people are taking, and are advertising as a "way to stop global warming," but the ball is kind of already rolling...

are the consequences laid out by the experts going to happen because the rate of climate change at the moment or what they predict will only happen if the same bad practices of burning fossil fuels continues?

there's so much CO2 in the atmosphere now, already disrupting the climate on Earth-- even if we stopped all CO2 emissions, would it make a huge difference at this point in time?

would it just alleviate some of the problem?

Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

I thought lab this week was

I thought lab this week was pretty challenging, but I think I learned from it. When we did the fly lab, the characteristics were already sorted out for us, but in observing the plants we had to pick our own characteristics and order our thinking more independently. This lab helped me to see that things aren't as neat as Mendel described them to be, and seemed more accurate to the version of science as stories ordering a bunch of observations.

What I'm really curious about is exactly how the environment effects phenotype. It seems to make sense on a molecular level that genes and dna would code for certain characteristics, which are then manifested in the production of macromolecules that create the phenotype of the organism. however, there must be a way the environment impacts the body's production of macromolecules, and this confuses me. Doesn't a trait have to be coded for in order for it to be exhibited? The answer to that is no, I guess, but I'm having a hard time conceptualizing how the environment can impact how an organism develops.

kcough's picture

global warming

Global Warming is a hot topic for a good reason. I recently attended Power Shift 2007, the largest youth global warming summit ever in DC, and it was eye-opening. The lectures and seminars were fascinating, and scary. We have got to take care of the earth. Admittedly, I should be better about it, but I do try-to shut the shower water off when I'm not using it, to take public transportation, etc. And while I agree that large-scale change needs to come from the government (and soon), while they keep on ignoring it, cities and local communities can do their part. There are a few great, which is all about attempting to reduce waste, especially organic waste, for less global warming. Their video, "The Story of Stuff," which should be up on the website soon, is fantastic, explainging the process of how those water bottles and organic food waste lead to global warming (use nalgenes! :-)). Another great one is, which lists the US cities that have committed to the Cool Cities Climate Challenge, involving all sorts of things we do locally, since the government hasn't decided to step up. (Philly is a Cool City- There are more websites about what schools can do and what we can do individually.

Sorry, I got off on a bit of a tangent from Biology. But Global Warming is important! And interesting. And it seems like everyone wants to do something, so I think those are interesting places to start.

Jen's picture

No, I have to agree. And I

No, I have to agree. And I find it extremely disturbing when people deny that there is evidence and strong correlation among the data showing a global warming trend influenced by our technology and pollution. One day it will be too late for us to do anything.

Samar Aryani's picture

The section in today's class

The section in today's class on global warming reminded me of a recent presentation I gave in my international politics class.  It is frusturating to see that countries are not playing the roles they should in really trying to stop the problem.  It obviously is an important problem that needs to be addressed or we will soon run out of resources.  There is a constant debate going on between the countries who are emitting the most fuels but at the top of the list is the USA.  What is frusturating is the fact that the USA refuses to do anything about it unless China and India do something first.  The situation is a bit more complex but that is the main point.  I believe that the USA needs to step up and take the lead because we are a major power in the world as well as a developed country, whereas the other two are not.  As disucssed in class, there are two major problems that are resulting from Global Warming: one, the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the air is increasing, and two, future generations are going to depend on these resources that take a long-time to be produced.  These problems are real and need to be addressed.  The efforts at the local level are very crucial but this is not going to happen if the country does not inforce it.  I think the USA should take a real stand and Bush should stop with his ridiculous ideas such as his new plan which essentially is trying to persuade China and India to cap their emissions.  The problem of global warming is a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately...if not, who know's where we will be in the future or even if a future will exist.
ekim's picture

on global warming and macromolecules.

we discussed in class today that the cause of global warming is the increase in carbon dioxide, not due to natural processes (like the increase in cellular respiration and decrease in photosynthesis), but due to unnatural ones--burning fossil fuels (i.e. factories, cars, etc.). So does that make humans a disruption to the ordered (improbable) assemblies of life? If so, would the orderliness of life change to adapt to the disruptions that humans caused?

And if living things learn how to adapt to new environments, does that mean that fundamentally macromolecules change as well (since they are the building blocks of living things)?

Rachel Tashjian's picture

I really, really like your

I really, really like your idea of "humans [as] a disruption to the ordered (improbable) assemblies of life."

I think, like Professor Grobstein said in class, it's not just the humans in general that are causing the disruption, but our reliance on nonrenewable resources. It seems to me that the more "improbable" humans try to make themselves (by constantly striving to better human life via technology, industry, etc), the less improbable they make life in general (because this expansion often uses nonrenewable resources). So, I would say that the orderliness of life changes to adapt to the human-caused disruptions—it decreases.

cmcgowan's picture

Global Warming the article!

I have been thinking about global warming a lot recently. Global warming is one of those "hot topics" (no pun intended) that many people hate and want to ignore because it is overwhelming. Eventhough I am a political junkie, I feel like I myself have somewhat ignored this issue because it is so much bigger than myself. Now that I am really starting to notice the climate change that has occured over my lifetime, I know that I can't push this issue aside. Today in class when Professor Grobstein brought up global warming I thought that it was interesting that people didn't know what to say about it. It is hard to know what to say because the global warming story is so contreversial and constantly changing. It seems like when I was younger scientests were predicting that there would be some noticeable changes within our lifetime. Only a few years later we are seeing HUGE changes...I think this says something to us about science as storytelling, especially when the stories being told concern global issues. Scientests can predict the rate and effects of global warming, but how accurate can they be? There are so many factors that affect global warming and so many things that are affected by global warming.

As Prof. Grobstein said in class, the current story is that global warming is the result of a rise in carbon dioxide. So this means that the amount of photosynthesis has either stayed the same or decreased while the burning of fossil fuels has increased. When you look at it this way, it almost seems like the solution is formulaic. Could we try to create an equilibrium by increasing photosynthesis?

The discussion that we have been having over the past few weeks about altering human genes has led me to wonder if we could do the same thing for plants in a way that could help us overcome global warming. I found an article about a research project in Illinois that created a computer chip that simulates the steps of photosynthesis in hopes of finding new ways to increase plant productivity. The model simulates many different scenarios including different environmental changes and permutations of proteins to find the most productive. Interestingly enough, the article does suggest that the model could be a part of the solution to overcoming climate changes. I would encourage you all to check out the article!!

I hope I didn't run away with the global warming issue too much but I find it so interesting. My web paper topic actually has to do with this but I couldn't wait to share this article with you all because it is like a hybrid of our class discussions!