Friday, July 10, 2009

Asking "Why?" in biology

I was talking to a colleague this morning about genetics and the genetic code. I asked him why it used only 20 of the amino acids, when there are many, many more that could be used. His response was interesting... he said,

"Why"-questions don't usually have satisfactory answers in biology.

As it turns out, it's the why-questions that interest me the most. I remember taking genetics back during my undergrad days, and being floored by how the cell does what it does. All those membranes, substances and molecules moving to the right place at the right time. The prof and textbook frequently used personification to describe the cell, as if it had its own intelligence and will. But it's just a machine! Bridging THAT gap is what interests me.

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1 comment:

  1. Regarding the intelligence of a single cell -- you might enjoy the old SF book Blood Music by Greg Bear.

    I think it's probably a relief that the "why" questions don't have satisfactory answers. It helps establish the fact that these biological mechanisms were just thrown together haphazardly over time, rather than designed up front. I mean, for man-made objects, the anwer to "why" is usually tied up in design.