Today we are making a huge jump from the nucleus in the center of the cell to the outside of the cell membrane. Here we are going to take a look at the cell’s second language (the first language being DNA). If you recall DNA carries the language that codes for all of the numerous functions that take place throughout the cell. The structure and method of communication of oligosaccharides is as different from that of DNA as English is from Mandarin Chinese.
But did you know that the cell has a second language that is completely different than that of DNA? They are a group of molecules called oligosaccharides. They get their name from the Greek oligos meaning a few and sacchar meaning sugar. Oligosaccharides are composed of anywhere from two to ten simple sugars (monosaccharides) which together form a saccharide polymer. With numerous simple sugars available, the possible number of oligosaccharides is in the hundreds.
Oligosaccharides are located on the exterior surface of the cell membrane where they have two very important functions:
- Gatekeeper. A gatekeeper regulates what passes through the gate and that is one of the primary functions of oligosaccharides. They determine what particles of food or other substances are allowed to enter the cell. For example, when sperm cells reach an egg, they all want to enter and fertilize it. However only one sperm gets that privilege. The oligosaccharides on the tip of the sperm search for just the right matching oligosaccharide on the exterior of the egg. When they find each, the egg’s oligosaccharide allows the sperm to pass through. As it does, a chemical signal is sent out across the surface of the egg instructing the remaining oligosaccharides to block any further penetration of other sperm.
- Cell-to-cell communication. In order for the cells in our body to function uniformly, they need to be able to communicate with of the other cells around them. Otherwise each cell would be doing their own thing resulting in cellular chaos and the death of the tissue, organ and organism. Therefore it is the role of the oligosaccharides to continuously talk to their neighboring cells to help them function in a coordinated effort for the benefit of the organism as well as the benefit to themselves.
The combined functions of oligosaccharides are being carefully studied by a number of medical research firms in hopes finding cures to diseases caused by viruses such as viral pneumonia, influenza and the common cold. In order for a virus to enter a cell and infect its genetic makeup, it first has to be recognized by one or more oligosaccharides. If the researchers can identify which oligosaccharides are involved with the specific virus, it may be possible to create some type of vaccine that would block that specific recognition signal. If the recognition signal can be effectively blocked, the virus would no longer be a threat to the body. Although the concept may sound simple, it really isn’t because some viruses carry chemicals that resemble other things the cell needs and if you block the virus you block the beneficial substances as well which could cause more harm than the virus. Needless to say, this field of medical research holds some very exciting possibilities.
In an earlier segment of this series (DNA: Instruction Manual of the Simple Cell – Part 23) we discussed the Laws of Information that states that information can only come from another source of information and ultimately from a source of intelligence. Yet evolution wants you to believe that the intricate informational language of DNA evolved by random chance processes which realistically is impossible. Now consider the fact that the cells have not one but two completely different languages that are necessary for its function and survival. If you think the chances of evolving one language system is impossible, consider the probability of evolving two completely different language systems with completely different functions.
Once again we see the marvelous hand of our Creator God and how He thought of everything down to the tiniest detail when He created life on this earth. It brings a richness to Romans 1:20 which says;
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
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