Nature’s Best Kept Secret
Imagine a workshop with nothing but thousands of identical machines churning away.
And each of these machines can make any device; all it needs is to be programmed correctly.
And everything they make is perfect to one part in ten thousand.
That workshop, shrunk a million times would be one of our cells. And the machine is a molecular device, 2000 times smaller than the width of a hair, called the ribosome.
“Everything in our cells is either made by the ribosome, or made by another molecule that itself was made by the ribosome” says Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, one of the handful of experts to unpick the secrets of this powerhouse of life.
And as well as being a universal fabricator – shared in essence by every living thing – the ribosome could be the most direct connection within us to the very origins of life, that warm pond of chemicals 4 billion years ago, where self-replicating molecules, perhaps made of RNA like the heart of the ribosome, started the long ascent to complexity.
Next week: Tracing the medical tracer and the lost civilisation of Harappa ...