How does insulin control blood sugar levels? How do antibodies fight coronaviruses? Questions like these have been at the frontier of biochemical research for as long as we have known there were such things as proteins. Understanding proteins and how they are made is a challenge that continues to be the focal point of a great deal of work.
The human body contains at least 20,000 different proteins, and their shapes are controlled by how their component amino acids are twisted and folded. In the medical field, the importance of understanding proteins is enormous. Not understanding proteins and how they are made would be like trying to fix a car engine when you don’t know how it works or how it was put together.
The Week for December 18, 2020, quotes Janet Thornton of the European Bioinformatics Institute, saying, “This is a problem that I was beginning to think would not be solved in my lifetime.” What has changed is that computers can do in hours what would take a human years to solve. Scientists have analyzed protein structures for malaria, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis (a disease caused by parasites) to find new methods of treating those diseases.
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of life, and we know that they exist in outer space and can be produced in the laboratory. Using these building blocks to make proteins that govern how life works is extremely complex. The amino acids bend and fold in origami-like structures to make proteins. To suggest that proteins can result from some chance process of organic evolution is stretching credibility to the breaking point.
Genesis gives us the simple statement, “And God said ‘It is good.’” As biochemistry begins understanding proteins and how they are made, we see how complex God’s creation is. Those simple words wonderfully describe what we are starting to understanding as a work of incredible intelligence and design.
Advertisements for food supplements, diet plans, and “miracle cures” on the internet and television, in magazines, and newspapers continuously remind us that things in our environment threaten our existence. We are indeed attacked by human-made toxins, natural toxins, air and water pollution, ultraviolet radiation and x-rays from the Sun, and contaminants in the foods we eat. We have a natural body repair system that takes care of most of those threats.
The chemistry of the human body is an incredibly complex system in which a wide variety of chemicals keep us alive. There are 60-trillion cells in an average human body, and each cell has a chemical signature for what it does. Cells in your pancreas produce insulin and pump it into your bloodstream. Your thyroid produces a chemical that governs your metabolism. Your bone marrow and thymus gland produce antibodies that ward off disease. Those are only a few examples of the body repair system.
Most cells have thousands of chemical reactions going on at any given moment. The facilitators of this chemical system are proteins called enzymes. For every one of the thousands of chemical reactions that go on in each cell of your body, there is one specific protein molecule. It has just the right shape to bring two other molecules together and form bonds. That means there are massive numbers of enzymes to fill that role.
Our DNA contains the blueprints for making the enzymes, and our cells use those blueprints to make the proteins they need. If a cell is damaged, it dies, and another cell replaces it. If the DNA is damaged, then bad information is fed to the cells, and the result can be catastrophic. To avoid that problem, our DNA has segments known as genes. Each of the roughly 80,000 genes in the human body carries the information to assemble one enzyme and control one chemical reaction in the cell. This one enzyme can repair damage in the DNA, so the number of things that can kill a cell is significantly reduced by the body repair system.
Scientists are very interested in repair enzymes and how they keep our DNA functional. God has designed a system that enables us to live. Understanding that design is opening the door for new ways to cure the ills of humanity. Biochemists are researching and designing treatments for various genetic diseases. Reading about this kind of research always brings back the statement of David in Psalms 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works…”
The speed of scientific advancement in genetics and the use of computers in biochemistry is astounding. Scientists mapped the human genome in 2001. In May of 2018, Synthetic Genomics announced that they had created a working Digital to Biological Converter (DBC). The DBC turns digitized DNA code into synthetic biological material such as proteins. The process is called “Gibson Assembly” and can produce small pieces of DNA code called oligonucleotides and stitch the pieces together into DNA strands.
The exciting part of this new technology is that it could allow doctors to personalize medications to the individual needs of patients. Oncologists could create a medicine specifically targeted to the patient’s tumor. It has the potential to create vaccines to fight an epidemic quickly. The prototype machine is too large and too inefficient to be practical, but Synthetic Genomics hopes to have it available to medical researchers in three to five years.