Jun28 2011

Proteins: Taking Origami To A Whole New Level

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pack rat, but there are some things that I just can’t bring myself to throw away. Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards. The truth of the matter is that the items that I tend to hang onto would not be considered valuable by most people, but to me they are priceless. One of those items is sitting on top of my bookcase. It’s a small swan that was given to me by a friend’s daughter who had carefully folded it for me out of a piece of blue paper. Given that I find it challenging enough to re-fold a roadmap, I have a real appreciation for anyone who has the patience and the skill to do origami. Taking a sheet of paper and transforming it into a work of art is hard enough. Yet there is something else that requires folding in order to make it, and the precision with which it is folded is so critical that life would be impossible without it. This “something” that I’m referring to is a protein.

All living things are made up of proteins, and proteins are made up of “building blocks” known as amino acids. More specifically, those proteins must be made up almost exclusively of left-handed amino acids. Amino acids exist in what has come to be known as “left-handed” and “right-handed” forms. In other words, if you were to look at a three-dimensional model representing each type, you would notice that they exist as mirror-images of each other, similar to placing your hands together, touching fingertips. Again, even though amino acids exist in both forms, living things are made up almost exclusively of the left-handed kind. So, even if you have a long chain of left-handed amino acids linked together, if just one right-handed amino acid finds its way into that chain, the protein’s ability to function is diminished greatly, if not entirely. To make life even more improbable, all of the “letters” of the “genetic alphabet” in that chain must be in exactly the right sequence in order to be meaningful, much like the proper arrangement of letters in a book or a set of instructions. How improbable is it? Just ask the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix design, (evolutionist) Francis Crick:

“If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would this be?….The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time.”

Francis Crick, “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature”, 1981, pp.51-52

We’re not finished yet. Not only do all of the correct amino acids have to be in proper order in the chain, not only do they have to be exclusively left-handed amino acids, in addition to this, the protein must be folded into a three-dimensional configuration to exact specifications. This is a critical step because the folded protein must have the proper “lock and key” fit in order to function and to interact with the other components within the cell that require an exact match to it. To say that the protein must be “precisely folded” is an understatement. In an outstanding presentation titled, “The Origin of Life”, Mike Riddle of the Institute for Creation Research draws our attention to two different studies in order to help us understand how improbable it is to properly fold a protein. He begins with the following statement by H.J.C. Berendsen:

“Scientists have been attempting to be able to determine a protein’s native conformation (or folding) by examining the amino acid sequence. Despite years of study, the ability to do this using even the fastest computers is beyond our reach…”

“…Using a super fast computer (one quadrillion computations per second) it would take 1080 seconds, which exceed the age of the universe by a factor of 60 orders of magnitude! This fact alone may give you a better perspective on the mind of God.”

H.J.C. Berendsen, “Perspectives: Protein Folding, a Glimpse of the Holy Grail?”

-Science, 1998

Or consider another study in Los Alamos, N.M. in October 14th, 2002, where researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, San Diego, used some of the fastest computers available to simulate the folding of a “simple” protein consisting of only 18,000 atoms. (Again, this is after getting all of the right atoms, arranged in the right order- all it has to do is fold the protein properly). How long did it take the computers? It took 6 months on 82 parallel processors, which amounts to 34 years of CPU time! Riddle goes on to point out that by comparison, a living cell folds this particular protein in about 10 microseconds (millionths of a second), which is 100 trillion times as fast as our fastest computers. As it turns out, the fastest “computer” in the world is a cell!

All of this leads one to ask the question:  if there is so much evidence for a Creator, why do so many people, especially in the sciences, continue to deny His existence?  It all comes down to one word- accountability. That is, it’s not a problem with the evidence, it’s a problem with the heart of man. We rebel against the idea that there is anyone who has ultimate authority over us, to whom we will be accountable at the end of our lives. In our attempt to flee from God, we are willing to deny the obvious.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”         (Romans 1:21)

Comments are closed.

  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.