“Love and Death are always on my mind”

Recently I have been interested in Mitosis and Apoptosis, the life and death of cells.

Apoptosis relies on enzymes called Caspases. These are protein digesters that cleave proteins apart at specific locations. “Programmed cell death” as it is often translated, doesn’t take into consideration the usefulness of a specific cell, the experience it has gained from repeatedly performing its function… no, how could a biochemical process know such things? Still, it is a part of the life-cycle of a cell that marks the end of that cell, that unit of life, and prevents it from duplicating its organelles, Deoxyribonucleic Acid… this isn’t simple fission.

Spindle fibres, centrioles, cytokinesis—all the sundry mechanics of replication and division happening constantly within us, without conscious thought playing a role—a process of folded protein interactions, it can be overwhelmingly complex and beautiful. There are a lot of triggers for these processes including the external environment the cell exists in. Inhibitory proteins, catalytic enzymes, regulatory hormones, binding to sites on proteins they happen to stumble into in the grand and chaotic dance of biochemistry.

Sometimes the presence of specific proteins in excess causes strange things to happen. Apoptosis Inhibitor Proteins (IAPs as they’re sometimes called) can lead to extraordinarily long cellular life cycles—the fountain of youth itself. But cells aren’t meant to live forever, necrosis is just another process that can affect life. Poly-Adenosine Diphosphate-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) can cause necrosis by causing a cell to consume all of its Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the phosphate energy carrier released by the Krebs Cycle that provides the chemical energy needed by our biochemistry—part of what keeps us alive.

When cells don’t or can’t die they proliferate in ideal conditions, mitosis creating life, again and again without end. In my mind this is how tumours grow, there can be a gene mutation, or simply an over-expression of a gene that codes for an IAP inhibitory protein that prevents Caspases from cleaving, prevents the cascade. I’m certainly not telling you anything new, this is the first place to look for understanding tumour growth. Perhaps in the future there can be an injection given into the heart of a tumour that helps regulate Apoptosis, turning off these inhibitory proteins and allowing the cells to die a normal cell death. Or even an activator that causes PARP like proteins to increase in concentration in the cytoplasm, Caspases that cleave proteins apart, or phagocyte digestive processes aided by enzymes might be able to aggressively consume tumours. The only problem is these processes are simple mechanically and don’t yet discriminate. Still, if one could find a way to isolate, start and stop these simple mechanisms then they might be viable in the future… or maybe just in my head.

When I have a thought, I wonder where it originates. Yes, neurons are the cellular unit that make up my brain, but what causes that presynaptic neuron to fire in memory recall? Is it a chaotic process like protein interactions? Are millions of neurons “searching” for the memory of my first kiss in the back of that car, or making out during The Lord of the Rings? What gives neurons the capacity to hold data, like images, sounds, smells, memories, our identities? The brain is so poorly understood that it all seems like magic, like we have a time machine in our skulls that lets us visit the past, live in the present and contemplate many possible futures. Maybe there is an intangible, metaphysical component to our consciousnesses? But then what happens during traumatic brain injury, when someone loses their sense of self, can no longer recognize loved ones, becomes unresponsive? Do the monists have it right, does consciousness exist solely within the bio-electro-chemical interactions within a mass of neurons, in countlessly finite synapses, along the axons and dendrites of the units of thought? I am not sure what to believe, but I really want there to be more to us than our physical forms.

Animals too have the ability to learn, are born with instincts and innate behaviours, and they too perhaps wonder about their lives as they lay there in the sun on our kitchen floors. If aliens were to visit our planet they would find it very strange we both care for and kill animals selectively, even with our superior technologies, we still haven’t solved the problem of why meat tastes so damn good. I hope one day that out of necessity or out of empathy that the majority of people become vegetarian, but this comes from my Indian background, I’m certain. India by percentage of population has the largest vegetarian population on the planet. Poor people cannot afford the meat, and others simply enjoy not having to support killing in their daily lives. Hunting is a cultural thing that dates back to when we were surviving outdoors. Maybe some of us lived on fruits and vegetables alone, with little protein in our diets, even back then… it’s possible, after all raw meat probably doesn’t taste too great.

All this thought about life and death has made me appreciate everything I have, especially my health. Everything functioning within ideal limits, the biochemistry, the physical, the emotional realms all making me alive. Life may not have turned out the way I wanted it to, planned it to, or wished it to, but I am able to feel that regret, that loss, that longing and it makes me who I am. I enjoy any emotions I feel, both the good and the bad (I hate to reduce emotions to a dichotomy, a binary, but you understand what I mean hopefully) because some people due to medications, depression, or other conditions can lose that part of themselves. Or you could be born Vulcan and repress the desire to feel, giving cold logic the throne of the mind.

I am working again, and time sure does fly when I’m at work. I haven’t reached a place where I can mull over thoughts, as my mind is occupied by having to remember and match numbers to their correct locations. I’m sure in a few years robots will have taken over my job, because it will be more efficient. A robot could do my job, but I’m glad they chose a human being. So when I come home I like to try and expose myself to things I find interesting, or sometimes simply relax into the familiar world of Azeroth. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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