If you are aware of the combinatorial explosion of folding options for proteins, then this paper deserves your attention. If you are unimpressed by such arguments, then Tompa and Rose (the paper's authors) should provide you with a challenge as they wrestle with the question: "how does a viable cell emerge from the bewildering combinatorial complexity of its molecular components?"
In his blog on this paper, Paul Nelson points out that the paper's arguments bear "strongly on the design debate". Indeed, they represent "so remarkable a challenge to widely held assumptions about (for instance) the origin of cells, that its effect promises to be far-reaching. As in, revolutionary."
For those impressed by the "creation" of a bacterial cell in 2010 (previously discussed here), Tompa and Rose have this to say:
"The inability of the interactome to self-assemble de novo imposes limits on efforts to create artificial cells and organisms, that is, synthetic biology. In particular, the stunning experiment of "creating" a viable bacterial cell by transplanting a synthetic chromosome into a host stripped of its own genetic material has been heralded as the generation of a synthetic cell (although not by the paper's authors). Such an interpretation is a misnomer, rather like stuffing a foreign engine into a Ford and declaring it to be a novel design." (p.2078)
The Humpty-Dumpty Effect: A Revolutionary Paper with Far-Reaching Implications
Evolution News & Views, October 23, 2012
The Levinthal paradox of the interactome
Tompa, P. & Rose, G.D.
Protein Science, December 2011, 20(12), 2074-2079 | doi: 10.1002/pro.747
Abstract: The central biological question of the 21st century is: how does a viable cell emerge from the bewildering combinatorial complexity of its molecular components? Here, we estimate the combinatorics of self-assembling the protein constituents of a yeast cell, a number so vast that the functional interactome could only have emerged by iterative hierarchic assembly of its component sub-assemblies. A protein can undergo both reversible denaturation and hierarchic self-assembly spontaneously, but a functioning interactome must expend energy to achieve viability. Consequently, it is implausible that a completely "denatured" cell could be reversibly renatured spontaneously, like a protein. Instead, new cells are generated by the division of pre-existing cells, an unbroken chain of renewal tracking back through contingent conditions and evolving responses to the origin of life on the prebiotic earth. We surmise that this non-deterministic temporal continuum could not be reconstructed de novo under present conditions.
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