the miracle of the hormones

Communication within the Cell

Up to this point, we have examined how cells communicate among themselves and the means by which one cell sends its message to another. We touched on the functions of these messages (hormones) and the effects they have on cells. In this section we will examine how the message carried to the cell by a hormone is transferred from the cell's membrane to its nucleus. In other words, we will examine the communication system inside the cell.

The Communications Center in a Cell and Its Stations

Most of us are familiar with high communications towers, and many of us have seen television news reports of the opening of such installations. The first impression that these images leave on our minds is probably the image of a structure full of antennas and complicated electrical devices. This idea is not mistaken because, in order to understand the technological devices used in these installations, one must have a certain engineering expertise in electronics and communications. Besides this, almost all of us believe that these facilities are now indispensable in enabling us to establish communication with people in every part of the world. Just think of this: What would happen if all the communications towers, with their centers and stations, were to shut down for a short time? There is no doubt that this situation would cause great chaos and anxiety. But, no matter how much material damage might result, it could still be repaired.

Communication within a cell begins when molecules carrying a message such as a hormone approach the cell. Receptors on the cell's membrane receive the message and relay it to other molecules in the cell that are responsible for communication. This facilitates the activation of certain genes in the DNA and causes the production of the proteins contained in the message.

However, if the communication between our hundred trillion cells, or the communication within one cell, were to shut down for just an instant, and the cellular messages were not to reach their destination, the result would be death. Modern communication systems are established using electronic and mechanical devices with the most advanced technology. However, the advanced technology of the inner communications systems of cells, which is too advanced for human beings to fathom, is constructed with the use of devices structured from protein. Inside protein there are no electrical circuits (or even semi-conductors) as exist in modern devices; in their place are atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. There are an estimated 30,000 different proteins in our body and of these, the function of only two percent is completely understood.44 The function performed for human beings by many proteins is still largely unknown.

Today, communication devices are of great importance to humanity. There is a flawless communication network in our bodies that has been in place and working since the first person was created.

The communications system among cells in some ways resembles systems used by human beings. For example, on the membranes of the cells there are "antennae" that allow them to sense the messages that come to them. Immediately under these antennae are "power stations" which decode the message sent to the cell.

These antennae are located on the one hundred thousandth of a millimeter thick cell membrane that surrounds the cell. This receptor, which is known as "tyrosine kinase," is composed of three basic sections: the antenna, the body and the tail. The shape of the part of the antenna that projects out from the cell membrane resembles a dish antenna used to collect satellite transmissions. Just as each dish antenna is designed to receive certain satellite transmissions, there are different receptors that understand the language of the messages carried by various hormone molecules.

The messages coming from different cells/hormones come into contact with the antennae on the cell membrane, but each antenna is designed to sense only one single message. This is a very special instance of design and because of this, a message cannot be sent in error to another cell.

The great harmony in which hormones and antennae are created in relation to one another can be compared to the lock-and-key relation observed in almost all biological activity. Only the right key can open the lock; that is, only the right cell will have anything to do with the message sent, this message being without meaning for other cells.

On the membrane of each cell are antennae that ensure that messages are received. These antennae are "tyrosine kinase." Tyrosine kinase is composed of an antenna, a body and a tail. The exposed part of the antenna looks like a dish used to receive satellite broadcasts.

At the moment the hormone reaches the cell, it sets an incredible system into motion. By means of a very special communications system, the message coming to the cell is sent to that cell's DNA. The cell is then moved in action according to the message.

Information is transmitted via the Internet to a personal computer connected to a computer network. This computer sends the information it receives to a printer that puts it on paper. For millions of years there has been a perfect communication system in cells that functions in a way similar to the high technology used by human beings today.

In order to understand just how wonderful this operation is, think about an ordinary occurrence that everyone can encounter in their daily life. Information is sent via the Internet to a personal computer connected to a network of other computers. The information sent to the computer is transmitted to another unit, for example, to a printer, and the printer puts the information on paper. People have been using computers since the 1980's; they are used at home and in the workplace and, since the mid 90's, the Internet has become a part of people's lives. If you read in a newspaper one day that a computer has been built that was too small for the eye to see, and that this computer was communicating with other computers, your reaction would be quite different. Perhaps you would not believe that this technology could be compacted to such a small size. However, in real life there is a communications system with a technology much more highly developed that this, working in an area too small for the eye to see.

The fact that a message coming to a cell's antennae is transmitted at great speed to the nucleus of the cell, and that a highly advanced technology is employed in the process of this communication, is a much greater wonder than a microscopically small computer. This is because a cell is a piece of flesh and your whole body, from your eyes with which you are reading this site to your hands you are holding it with, is formed by cells working together. In the body of each one of us, there are 100 trillion small organisms possessed of a highly advanced communications system. Now let us examine the system by which the message reaching the cell is transmitted inside the cell, and let us see the wonder of creation manifested in a piece of flesh one percent of a millimeter in size.

44 M. Encarta Encyclopedia 2000, "Protein"