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Showing posts from February 14, 2010

Gene Assembly in Ciliates - A glimpse into biological information processing

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When researching material for a term paper on biocomputing, I came across a fascinating group of critters called ciliates. Ciliates are unicellular organisms that process their genomic information in a peculiar and unique way, one that was fascinating to study for the computer scientist side of me. In ciliates, we find a very illustrative example of how biological systems use structure as information. Plus they use pointers and linked lists.

There they are. Some ciliates. [Image from http://www.liacs.nl/~rbrijder/views_gene_assembly/]
Ciliates, unlike other eukaryotes, have two different kinds of nuclei: macronuclei and micronuclei. A macronucleus is used in the everyday operation of the organism, for synthesizing the proteins it needs to survive. A micronucleus only comes into play during sexual reproduction (I'm stressing this because ciliates can also reproduce asexually). During sexual reproduction, two ciliates recombine their genetic material. The result is somewhat unusual: i…