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Several Short Sentences on Surviving as a Simple Cell (a Lesson on the Simple Life)

Updated: Mar 7

Even a single cell can be very complex.


Plants and animals –

the most intricate –

contain tens of thousands of genes for the proteins they need to be.

But they don’t need all those genes.

After decades of inquiry, we still don’t know what they all do.

Though we do know a bacterium with less than 200 genes can also go without a few.


So, what happens when a cell keeps it simple?

Moger-Reischer and his team set out to see.

In a lab they cut a cell’s genome almost in half –

streamlined it.

The cell contained only the principal genes to survive and reproduce.

They were curious to see how it evolved –

how it changed.

They wanted to know two things:


1. Did the simple cell change faster or slower?

2. Did it change in the same way?


So, they compared their derivative to the authentic.


The simple cell mutated as fast as the original,

and in the same way:

on a single point in the genome –

on a single nucleotide.

But the simple cell was lacking a gene.

Without that gene, its mutations at one point were biased heavily.

And much more than the original.


Lacking other genes, it was costly to be a minimal cell in the beginning.

The first simple cells were half as effective at passing along genes.

But those cells evolved fast,

And by the end of the experiment made up the early deficit.


Even with early costs, simple cells find a way to innovate.

Simple cells adapted in a completely different set of essential genes.

Since they lacked half of their genome,

the simple cells created a new relation to place.


Some of these changes came because the simple cell was constrained.

The simple cells started out small.

Through generations their size stayed the same.

Perhaps there was not enough of their right stuff.

Or maybe cell size is a neutral byproduct of changes in other superfluous traits.

Regardless, these results show cells do not always have to grow to adapt.


Likewise, to make it through unstable times, sometimes it works to simplify.

The world has shown it can support us all, big or small.

Now is the time for us to look within to see how we can meet the moment.

It may not require us to strip our genomes down to the barebones,

But there is a thing, or two, without which we can do.

To be sure, at first it will hurt.

Still, the simple cell shows us that –

aside from size –

in time life won’t be so different.


(Click here for the link to the original research. And click here for Verlyn Klinkenborg's book.)


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