If you remember your high school biology course, you may recall two organelles within the cell. One is mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell. The other is the endoplasmic reticulum which assembles the proteins to carry out the cell’s job. So naturally, any process as complex as those organelles do will produce some waste byproducts, some of which are toxic. Autophagy is the process of how cells dispose of waste.
In 2016 Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in understanding the process. Autophagy degrades some mitochondria and carries out the removal of toxins. The name comes from Greek words that mean “self-eating.” New autophagy research is critical because disease prevention requires efficiently removing toxins from the cell. If autophagy is reduced or impaired, it can start or catalyze the growth of cancerous cells. Scientific understanding of how cells dispose of waste by autophagy may also improve the treatment of other diseases.
The description of autophagy we received in high school biology was greatly simplified, and even scientists today still have much to learn. According to current researchers, “the cell is a complex driver of machinery which is continually being built, put into motion, and eventually broken down.” We know that any machine must be carefully designed and manufactured in a controlled way. That means the living cell is a clear example of the complexity of life.
Creating life required clever engineering and great attention to detail. Autophagy is just one part of what God designed into all living cells. Proverbs 8 personifies “Wisdom” describing her involvement in God’s creative process. That wisdom is apparent in how cells dispose of waste.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
Reference: The journal Cell