Monday, January 12, 2009

entropy and cells

Somebody asked me how I decide which topic to talk about in this daily blog. Actually, when I started this blog, I first focused on the main topics of Cell Biology. Thus, my first post (after the Intro) was about the basic requirements of cells and cell design. After that however, I would shift between cell design and the misconceptions that I usually encounter in textbooks or in students. Later, there is really no pattern in my posts. I would just talk about either the first topic that comes to mind or I would try to relate my post to the occasion as what I did last Christmas. Now, I talk about what ever inspires me for the day.

So what inspires me today? Yah, what? Well, I let my mind wonder through my “library” about cells and it paused on the concept of entropy. I know entropy is taken up more in physics, but entropy is also very much related to life. Why?

Well, the natural order of things (including living things) is towards entropy or towards increasing disorder. Yes, this is the natural order of things - towards disorder. If we notice, it is always easier to have disorder than order. It is always easier to break things than to make them because breaking order uses less energy than making order. 

Living things which are highly organized are not exempt from this natural tendency towards disorder or entropy. This order in our structure and function is what keeps us alive. If there is disorder in our structure and function, then we get sick or we even die. Therefore, living things including us must keep on doing something to prevent this disorder. So what is this something? This something is – generate energy and use this energy to prevent entropy.

Yes, this is the main reason why we must always generate energy. We have to maintain the order in all our cells. We have to maintain our structures, our high degree of organization, so we will be able to function. Thus energy production is a continuous process. We cannot stop generating energy. We need a constant source of energy therefore, so we can “bank against entropy” as how Lewis Thomas put it.

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