Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Douglas Adams was right all along

First, a little background. As a teenager (eons ago) I was a fan of British comedy. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was my introduction to this genre, but soon my friends and I were watching, reading, listening to, and discussing Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, and by extension Doctor Who to name a few. When Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series was aired on the BBC and released as a book shortly thereafter it was added to the menu. It should be noted that this was before the age of the internet so access to this content was not as easy as it is today.

While The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy got its start as a British Pop culture comedy, it has become international sensation over the years, with the books being translated in over thirty languages. The central theme to the story is that race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When the answer was revealed to be 42, there was a problem in that no one knew what the question was. To those who have read the books I will not belabor the plot and to those who have not read them I will not spoil it.

The story: What is amazing is that Science alert website posted an alert about a group at the University of Toronto in Canada trying to ascertain the number of protein molecules in a cell published in Cell Systems. Proteins are molecules that do the majority of the work in cells. Because the cell’s proteome is dynamically changing in response to the environment and stress, it is very difficult to actually pin down the number of protein molecules in a single cell. Using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model the group looked at data from 21 separate analyses to estimate that there were 5,858 different proteins in an average yeast cell. The abundance of the different proteins is not evenly distributed, with most having between 1,000 and 10,000 molecules while others might have only 10 copies and a few having as many as 500,000. The total number however was on average 4.2 x 107 (42 million) molecules. Douglas Adams must have known all along. Human cells are more complex and most likely will have a greater number. Hopefully, the answer won’t take as the 7.5 million years that it took Deep Thought to work out the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life.


By: BioTek Instruments, Paul Held, PhD., Laboratory Manager

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