PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Evolution of Cellular Organization
Historically, the original cells to exist were almost certainly "prokaryotic": they were small in size, contained circular genomes, and very likely no intracellular compartments. Cells like this still exist today in the form of bacteria like E. coli and S. typhimurium (salmonella), but humans, animals, and plants are made of cells that look rather different. These "eukaryotic" cells are made of much more complex membranes, have genomes organized into chromosomes, and have become compartmentalized. How did we get from point A to point B? "Why" did we go from A to B? Evolution on a cellular level isn't even the smallest frontier, as proteins adapt how they function as well over the course of millions of years. How do changes to a cell affect changes to a protein, and vice versa?
The Ripple Effect of Mutations
Each protein is a delicate machine that has evolved to work in a certain fashion; much like a car, every "part" needs to be present, properly aligned, and properly constructed. Changes to the blueprint (ie, mutations to the DNA that encode a protein) may leave the protein nonfunctional. Many diseases, including Huntington's, Cystic Fibrosis, and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy find their roots in genetic mutations. Oftentimes, we merely assess the physical symptoms when analyzing a disease, such as reduced muscle mass, loss of movement, etc. but in reality, the way that a mutation causes these symptoms involves a domino effect of one improper protein affecting the role of another, and another, and another. Connecting the dots from one mutation on a protein all the way to the symptomatic level requires an in-depth exploration of the functions of the proteins and systems that are affected, and provides insight into the delicate balance required to maintain a healthy organism.