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Muscular power grid discovery points to a master electrician


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Muscular power grid discovery points to a master electrician

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study announced July 30 in the science journal Nature invalidates a long-held idea about how muscle cells respond to meet energy demands. The discovery adds further support for intelligent design theory.

Previous proposals held that energy distribution in skeletal muscle cells occurred through a metabolite-facilitated diffusion of energy-laden compounds through the crowded cell. That raised a question: Isn’t diffusion too slow for the fast-acting muscle cell? Apparently it is, but electricity is not.

According to NIH, researcher Robert S. Balaban and colleagues demonstrated in a collaborative study “the first clear evidence that muscle cells distribute energy primarily by the rapid conduction of electrical charges through a vast, interconnected network of mitochondria—the cell’s ‘powerhouse’—in a way that resembles the wire grid that distributes power throughout a city.”

The Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design, notes the new discovery “implies another level in the design hierarchy: Not only is the power grid well organized inside the cell, but the cells are organized in the muscle tissues for the optimum utilization of the power where it is needed most.”

The energy for muscle contraction begins in part with a molecular machine called the ATP synthase, a miniature power generator that produces adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The ATP synthase molecular machine has interactive parts easily recognized from human-designed technology, including basic components of a rotary engine—a rotor, a camshaft or driveshaft, and a stator. Those motors, producing energy-packed ATP, are located along folds of the muscle cell’s mitochondrial membrane for more efficient energy output. The NIH study reveals the mitochondria themselves are connected in a vast intracellular electrical network.

Balaban and his team used high-resolution microscopy to discover the network.

“This energy distribution network, which depends on conduction rather than diffusion, is potentially extremely rapid, thereby enabling muscle to respond almost instantaneously to new energy demands,” the NIH concluded.

Researchers speculate the discovery could shed light on muscular-related disorders, including muscular dystrophy and heart disease.


Dick Peterson Dick is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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