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Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…

Darpa Searches for Life’s Master Clock

Posted by truthpills on 2011/07/24

By Noah Shachtman and Lena Groeger July 18, 2011 | 4:44 pm

There’s a hidden clock that underlies every process of every living thing — from when our cells start dividing to how quickly we age. Researchers at Darpa, the Pentagon’s extreme science agency, believe they can find it, using a mash-up of biology, code-cracking, mathematics and computer science.

If the effort succeeds — and, boy, is that a big if — the recently announced Biochronicity program could help us understand why cancer is so hard to beat, how stem cells self renew and why cells are programmed to die. In other words, it’ll be one of the biggest breakthroughs Darpa has ever had.

Scientists these days have a half-decent sense of how our internal processes work. For example, we know that the carbs we eat are broken down into glucose and then broken down further into ATP, the energy that powers every cell. ‪But when exactly that breakdown happens, what precisely triggers it and how long each step takes is less known.‬ Considering how important timing is in other areas of science — from chemistry experiments to quantum mechanics — it’s surprising how little emphasis it’s given in biology.

Because it’s clear that all life processes depend on some internal time keeping. This can occur once in a lifetime — say, the hormones released during puberty — or as daily occurrence, as in the regular metabolizing of food into energy. While scientists have uncovered many different components of our inner clocks, “none have been identified as the single lynchpin or master regulator of the greater system that controls temporal expression.”

Darpa wants to find the master regulator, and then use that knowledge to develop “predictive models of molecular-timed events, cell-cycle progression, lifespan, aging, and cell death, response to stress, and useful treatment strategies and drug delivery.” The key word is predictive. Darpa is no longer content with biology as a descriptive enterprise, watching cells and enzymes do their thing. Now, it wants mathematical models and algorithms and theories to tell what they’ll do next.

In that way, the agency is looking to piggyback on the work of Alan Turing, the computer science pioneer who predicted that much of biology would be revealed to be the result of a series of patterns; more than five decades later, he’s largely been proven right.
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