Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yes, But What Are They Saying About Us?

From Science Daily:

When it comes to cellular communication networks, a primitive single-celled microbe that answers to the name of Monosiga brevicollis has a leg up on animals composed of billions of cells. It commands a signaling network more elaborate and diverse than found in any multicellular organism higher up on the evolutionary tree, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered...

...With all this new information, one obvious question remains unanswered: what is a single-celled organism doing with all this communications gear? "We don't have a clue!" says Manning, "but this discovery is the first step in finding out."

'More elaborate and diverse than any multicellular organism' including us, I guess. Hmm, maybe Greg Bear's idea that prokaryotes are the secret rulers of Earth (in Vitals) isn't so far-out after all...


Blogger PeteY said...

What, Greg Bear wrote another one, about prokaryotes? Blood Music was about eukarya, as I recall. Hats off to the man. Anyway, Paul, this sounds like your kind of thing. I like your work best when you do gene hacking.

July 09, 2008 10:07 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Petey, I should have replied earlier, apologies. I think Blood Music was about prokaryotes too, wasn't it? Bacteria geneticcally modified to be very smart, eventually transforming all living creatures on Earth into a Zone of Thought. Vitals has more of a technothriller vibe.

I should also have made it clear that the little critter with the complex intercellular signalling system, Monosiga brevicollis, is a unicellular eukaryote. A marine choanoflagellate, in fact, and a close relative of multicellular animals. Very easy to grow in the lab, which is why it is a popular experimental subject. And which makes me wonder about all the other unicellular eukaryotes, and prokaryotes, that aren't easy to grow in the lab. What beautiful complexities are we missing?

There are gene wizards in The Quiet War, and a fair bit of biological speculation besides.

July 16, 2008 5:38 pm  

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