I have looked forward with much anticipation to the time when we could travel a bit farther down the road of discovery together. Finally, the time is now. Let me quickly lay out some of the scenery for your view. Our destination is not very far away, it is the vast and beautiful landscape of Redox Signaling; a technology that has the potential of providing us, when fully explored, with some of the greatest advances into the science of life that we can experience, accompanied by the power for good that comes from such knowledge. Over the last several posts (made a few years ago) we have covered some of the terrain that leads to this redox signaling landscape. Let me remind you of some of the scenery we passed along the way:
· The Atomic Scenery: to really appreciate what life is, we considered what is happening on the smallest scale, the details of the fine fabric that holds us together in the worlds much smaller than we can see. The atoms that make molecules that make machines in cells that make cells that make tissues that make systems that make our body. The same physical laws that make us also make up everything that surrounds us.
· The Signaling Networks of Life: The incredibly complex and beautiful orchestration of life that exists inside us requires that all of the billions of billions of billions of molecules inside us are connected together in a vast signaling network. Molecules in our brain signal molecules in our muscles signal molecules in our heart signal molecules in our gut and so forth. Signals from our exterior world, light, heat, sound, touch also interconnect with those inside us. Redox Signaling is perhaps the most fundamental of all our internal signaling networks.
· Control Semaphores: Exploring the semaphores that control the signaling networks within us might be one of the more boring aspects, but without it the traffic signals inside us would become hopelessly jammed and life would not be so great. Redox signals control these semaphores. Recall that diabetes was seen as a problem that happens when the signaling networks get fouled up.
· Homeostatic Balance: We then took a close up view of the universal law of nature that governs how all of this works. What brings us back into balance when things get out of balance? We explored one or two of the consequences of this law and how life must compensate for a lack (or an excess) of needed supplies: nutritional supplies, oxygen, water, and energy. We also looked at the vast extent of this law that like gravity governs all things from the smallest scale to the biggest scale everywhere.
· Uncountable Consequences: Crude attempts and much vigorous waving was done to emphasize the power that is found in understanding these most fundamental principles of life. When the bright light of truth illuminates our path, nothing is impossible, all obstacles are visible and tractable. We must let the light so shine to reap the benefits. A great diet, a great government, great management of resources, great relationships and great health is all possible as more truth is revealed to us, it is a worthy goal to pursue such truths and build the torch for those that follow.
At this point in the journey it might be a bit confusing why we had to go through all of this scenery to get us into redox signaling territory, but let me assure you that the view will be more appreciated after you have gone through the effort to get there.
First off, you passed through the atomic scenery because REDOX (REDuction/OXidation) happens on the atomic level. You need to think at the scale of an atom to understand what it really means. REDOX is a process that happens when atoms pass electrons back and forth between themselves. Oxidation happens when an electron is “stolen” from an atom or molecule. Reduction happens when an electron is received by an atom. Obviously when an electron is stolen from one atom, it can be received by another and so the process of passing an electron between atoms is called a REDOX process. The oxygen atom really likes to steal electrons that are hanging around and so the oxidation (electron stealing) process has been named after it. When electrons are stolen, the properties of the atoms change. Iron atoms make a hard and shiny metal surface, when electrons are stolen from them by oxygen they turn into orange crumbling rust (Iron oxide). Wood releases lots of energy when it is oxidized (it burns), but transforms into a crumbling pile of carbon.
By the way, this does not make oxygen “bad”, we certainly have a need for oxygen inside our bodies. As we will see a bit down the road, there are many types of oxidants inside us (along with oxygen) that are not “bad” and serve very important purposes. The landscape of redox signaling molecules that we will be exploring are mostly oxidants, in one form or another. We could not live a minute without them. The real issue is where there are too many oxidants or even too many antioxidants concentrated somewhere in our body. A local REDOX imbalance can make things very “bad” and can cause massive damage in cells and tissues. Here is where this law of homeostatic balance becomes so very important and where the terrain of redox signaling begins. The accumulation of oxidants and free radicals inside cells is like the accumulation of smoke inside a house. It causes everything inside the cell, including the genes, to take notice. This accumulation must stimulate processes that will bring things back into balance. It turns out that most of the most intricate and beautiful signaling networks in our body, the incredible orchestration of signaling activity between the countless molecules inside our trillions of cells, are made in attempts to restore homeostatic balance to the cells after it has been disturbed. This is the true test of a living organism. Living organisms can regain balance after they have been pushed out of balance. When an organism cannot do this, it is an indication that it is dead or will not be alive for very long.
We are just crossing into the redox signaling territory, but can you make out some of the beautiful landmarks already? The mysteries of detecting damaged tissues, the keys to regaining chemical balance, the benefits of clearing up confusing signaling, the emergence of natural cell regeneration. The mysteries of preserving healthy tissue. See you all soon as we continue onward.