So far we believe or many would assert as a matter of fact, that everything inside a cell is just a physical matter or inanimate. Individual components of the cell don’t have intent. I agree with that as we don’t have any experiments that can nullify it. But I am curious that, What changes as we bound all these components, these individual inanimate pieces inside a membrane and it becomes a “living entity”? We call a cell “living” entity. It’s amazing to just sit and think about it and if one is familiar with different fields within biology, especially structure biology, and cell biology, one’s imagination can become more beautiful and powerful.
This curiosity about what makes cell living, then sporulates many questions in my mind that I am constantly thinking about. Like what does human-level concepts, like the concept of life and death, what is alive and what is dead, concepts like human-level communication, or even consciousness, etc. what does it mean at a cellular level? How does our general understanding of human scale concepts projects onto a cell? Does it even make sense, does the concept remain the same? If not, how does it change? Maybe we can understand these concepts with a new perspective by exploring these dimensions.
I have woke in the middle of the night and made notes multiple times, which are either triggered by dreams or sudden thoughts that come with a little bit of consciousness I have during sleep. I am trying to articulate some of my thoughts now without getting mysterious and too out of sense ;) I am trying to articulate now about what does it means for a cell to be dead? And whether a “dead” cell can be brought to “life”? (In upcoming posts) Thanks to some of my dreams :)
All these questions provide me huge motivation or I would say just kind of works in the background especially during my research which is around the bigger picture of creating whole-cell models. The fact that I could become part of this expedition of creating a multi-scale, spatiotemporal, 3D dynamic whole-cell model is one of the best things that has happened to me. Now I can explore my curiosities not as a side job but as a full-time work :)
We have also published a perspective in Journal "Cell", where we basically talk about what a whole-cell model will mean ideally. If you look at the complexity of the problem, the enormous amount of data required, the enormous amount of processing, man-power, brain-power, it's not a job of a single person or single lab or even a single institute. It's a community-wide effort. Scientists, engineers, artists, and clinicians would have to come together to build this model. That’s why this perspective is also a call-to-arms for the community.
Why do we want to build this model? Well, it's not just us who want to build this model. There are already efforts going on in different labs around the world in one way or another, and modeling whole-cell is an inevitable direction of future biological research. What’s fascinating about it is thou that biology will need to fuse with other fields to be fully successful.
I have also been working with Cinema school at USC to build a virtual reality experience of "World In A Cell". I believe the way we teach biology will drastically change with projects like this. Imagine the next generation of biologists getting trained with the whole-cell model in hand along with the imagination of an artist. It will trigger new insights and will further lead to new adventures.
For me personally, I am most excited about exploring the questions I mentioned earlier. For me, it will be the most beautiful thing ever created by mankind, because you would have in your hands the model of the first step that we perceive as life. The first step where inanimate things come alive.
If we will be able to create an accurate model of the cell, I believe I would be able to realize the basic principles of life conserved from a single cell to humans and societies. Otherwise, the model is not accurate enough for me.
Stay tuned for more...