The Cross Species Universality of Biological Cells

Freedom Preetham
Meta Multiomics
Published in
4 min readMay 7, 2024

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I find myself utterly captivated, deeply fascinated, and wholly consumed by the biological architecture of cells. I spend every waking hour dedicated to contemplating the molecular machinery as a sophisticated information engine, where the language of life is intricately scripted using mathematical constructs. Even without delving into the mathematics, the truly enchanting aspect of life across all species lies in the universal and primordial principles of cell architecture that remain consistent throughout all forms of life.

Cells are the quintessential building blocks of life. They manifest a remarkable array of uniform characteristics across the diverse spectrum of life forms on our planet. These features, emblematic of shared evolutionary lineage, also emphasize the fundamental biochemical axioms that govern cellular functionality. In this blog, I explore the universal traits of cells, emphasizing the profound, scientific principles that define their existence and operation across species.

Note: When I use the word across species in this blog, I am particularly limited to eukaryotes.

Universal Genetic Code

A cardinal characteristic shared by all cells is the storage of hereditary information within the molecular confines of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). You can think of this as the blueprint for life. This molecule’s architecture — comprising a helical scaffold and a backbone constituted of sugar-phosphate groups — supports a linear sequence of nucleotides encoding the genetic lexicon. The genetic code, translating DNA nucleotide sequences into polypeptides, exhibits remarkable conservation across life’s domains, suggesting a monophyletic origin for all organisms.

DNA Replication

Every cellular entity replicates its DNA through templated polymerization. This safeguards the genetic integrity. This meticulously orchestrated process ensures that each progeny cell inherits an exact replica of the genetic material. Enzymatic agents like DNA polymerase oversee this process, utilizing the original DNA strand as a template to synthesize a new strand via complementary base pairing. This method not only highlights the chemical precision of cellular machinery but also the evolutionary robustness in preserving genetic information through generations.

Molecular Transcription from DNA to RNA

Transcription, the process by which cells transcribe segments of their DNA into ribonucleic acid (RNA), is essential for conveying genetic instructions. RNA polymerase, responsible for RNA synthesis from a DNA template, guarantees that genetic information is accurately transferred within the cell, maintaining gene expression fidelity and regulation.

Proteins as Catalysts

Proteins, serving as primary catalysts within cells, facilitate a myriad of biochemical reactions essential for life. Think of them as the cellular workhorses. These macromolecules, demonstrating remarkable versatility, accelerate reactions, provide structural integrity, mediate molecular transport, and regulate cellular processes. The universal deployment of proteins as enzymatic catalysts underscores their indispensable role in cellular operations.

Protein Synthesis

The central dogma of molecular biology is the translation of RNA into proteins, a fundamental process consistent across all cells across all species, involves ribosomes that interpret the RNA sequence to synthesize proteins by linking amino acids in a sequence specified by the mRNA. This uniform mechanism across diverse organisms underscores a shared evolutionary toolkit essential for life.

Gene-Protein Correlation

The link between genes and their corresponding proteins underpins the genetic determinism of cellular functions. This pivotal relationship is fundamental to understanding cellular control mechanisms and responses to environmental stimuli.

Life and Free Energy

The existence of life is contingent upon the thermodynamic imperatives, and hence the acquisition and utilization of free energy. Cells harness this energy from their surroundings, converting it into forms suitable for driving essential chemical transformations. This transduction of energy is crucial for maintaining the ordered state of living systems amidst the natural trend towards entropy.

Cells as Biochemical Factories

Cells operate as biochemical factories, processing the same fundamental molecular substrates, including nucleotides, amino acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. This universal biochemical framework allows cells to perform complex synthetic, degradative, and recycling functions vital for life.

The Plasma Membrane

Encapsulation of cellular contents by a plasma membrane, another ubiquitous trait, exemplifies the selective permeability essential for cellular viability. Think of these as the APIs or the Cellular Interface of how communication occurs. This lipid bilayer modulates the ingress and egress of nutrients, ions, and wastes, integral to the survival and functionality of every cellular entity.

Genomic Minimalism

The revelation that a living cell can thrive with fewer than 500 genes, as evidenced in certain bacterial species, offers profound insights into the fundamental requisites of life and prompts contemplation on life’s complexity and adaptability.

The universal attributes of cells reveal the consistency and efficacy of evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth. These shared traits not only illuminate our common origins but also furnish a framework for probing the intricacies and adaptability of life. This exploration invites an open discourse on how these universal features enrich our understanding of life and its potential manifestations across the cosmos.

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