Helen Clark

What is life? To the casual observer, living things are easily distinguished from inanimate –they are entities that reproduce, grow, and adapt. But how do these processes occur? If we could fully understand them, would we control life and become masters of our own fates?

Organisms exist through interactions with the very inorganic objects they are built from. Consider the humble amoeba, one of life’s simplest forms. As it glides through the molecular soup of a puddle the amoeba must somehow locate, distinguish, and capture miniscule bits of foodstuff that it can use for energy. The foodstuff is broken down and incorporated in the body of the amoeba and thus its life-force continues. An amoeba is made up of its surroundings and cannot live without continuous interaction with them. At the most basic physical interface between the puddle and the entity of the amoeba, there lies a critical conversion of information from “outside” to “inside” that occurs through cellular signal transduction.

The same basic principles of the amoeba apply to the trillions of cells that make up a human body. The more knowledge we collect regarding how our cells measure, probe, and adjust to their surroundings, the more we will be able to manipulate them with medicines that improve the human condition. The study of signal transduction is in essence the study of the innerworkings of life, and to understand it is to gain control of our own destinies as living beings.