There is as much cause and effect, as much determination of outcomes, as much logic and reason, in the compaction and twisting, the movement and re-shaping, as there is in any other aspect of the cell nucleus, even if the dynamism is fluid and irreducible to digital terms. The chromosome performs an unceasing dance and — crucially — the ever-shifting pattern of the dance lends its form and organization to the expression of genes. Perhaps that is why a pair of geneticists could write — very wisely, I think — that trying to define the chromatin complex “is like trying to define life itself” (Grewal and Elgin 2007).

If we ignore the artful movement, it’s not because we find in it little meaningful expression of the cell’s nature, but only because we have a difficult time translating it into the familiar and preferred terms of science. But that’s a limitation of our science, not of the cell. We already have enough evidence to say that the movement, as movement, must be at least as deft and graceful, and at least as well-calculated, as any Olympic gymnast’s.

Do the genes control the cell and hand down instructions? Whatever reason there may be to view the matter from that angle, there’s at least as much reason to think of the dance of chromosomes as controlling the genes. Which individual genes can be expressed and how much; which “signaling” functions of the cell are brought to bear on any particular gene; which large stretches of the chromosome are prepared for longer-term expression and which are put into “cold storage” — all this is not so much digitally enunciated as gestured by the entire context. And the choreography continually varies, summoning genes to participate in the power of its higher-order artistry.

It is not too much to say that the cell presents us with forms constantly modulated by the cellular environment and beyond — living sculptures, shape-shifting in response to a music we have not yet inquired about, let alone learned to hear.

by steve talbott, na última Net futures:



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