Letters in alphabets become unusable

Two alphabets

schwarzach It is amazing how similar systems from very different areas of reality are. For example, spelling and biochemistry. The proteins that determine all life are made up of linked amino acids. These are relatively small molecules - just as the individual letters of everything written are small units. Even the number is comparable: In the alphabet we have 26 letters, plus a few punctuation marks, proteins only have 20 “letters”, just 20 different amino acids.

Stop, let's interrupt at this point! So far, the text you have just read is 576 characters (including spaces). The hemoglobin molecule has a total of 574 individual amino acids. Most proteins are satisfied with 100 to 300 amino acids, the hormone insulin, necessary for the sugar metabolism, consists of 51 amino acids - for comparison: the italic part in this sentence consists of 52 letters. There are also very large proteins. The longest chain is titin, a protein in muscles that is important for contraction. It comprises 34,000 amino acids, which corresponds to about twenty pages of text in our letter model.

Copy errors in proteins

Enzymes that enable chemical reactions in the body are also proteins. 2,700 are known, the total number is estimated at up to 50,000. If we assume an average length of 200 amino acids for each of them, this would, converted into letters, result in ten books of 500 pages each. - Proteins are put together amino acid by amino acid according to the blueprint of the genetic information. From time to time there are copying errors, comparable to “typing errors” on the typewriter, which the elderly will still remember; Back then, spelling mistakes had to be laboriously corrected with "Tippex", which is no longer imaginable in the age of spelling programs. Such spelling mistakes occur in the copy of the genetic code and then appear in the proteins that the organism tinkers together according to this code. The more often the being in question "duplicates" itself, the more frequent are copying errors. It does not necessarily need an external influence, no X-rays, no cell poison, so-called mutations just occur and are inherited. Most are harmless, but sometimes adding a single wrong amino acid to a particular point in the chain can render the enzyme unusable. This is where the similarity between protein and written text ends. A misprint in the text is at most annoying, a copy error in the protein can lead to a serious illness. Or helps a virus to spread better.