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Beyond Theory: Applying the Dogma of Biology and Biological Hierarchy to Solve Modern Problems

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

I always found basic biology courses lacking in how understanding the concepts are important in solving real-world problems. So let's start our biology journey a little differently.

Two of the most fundamental concepts that we need to understand to apply biology to real-world health issues are: the dogma of biology and biological hierarchy.

Why are these concepts so important? Well, the dogma of biology lays out the fundamental principles that govern how biological systems work. Without understanding these principles, we cannot hope to understand how to manipulate or control biological processes.

Similarly, biological hierarchy describes how biological systems are organized, from the smallest building blocks of life to whole ecosystems and beyond. By understanding this hierarchy, we can better appreciate the interconnectedness of different biological processes and how they contribute to the overall health of a body.

By focusing on the practical applications of these concepts, we can gain a deeper understanding of biology and use that knowledge to solve modern problems, such as developing new medical treatments or creating more sustainable, nutritious agricultural practices. So let's dive in and explore these concepts in more detail!

See the following to review some very basic cell biology . I will cover it in more detail in future posts too.

Dogma of Biology

The dogma of biology is our framework for how all living beings on Earth store and use their genetic information to survive. It explains how genetic information is accessed from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), transcribed to ribonucleic acid (RNA), and translated to proteins. It's essentially biological data storage and access.

Overview of the dogma of biology from DNA to RNA to proteins.
An overview of the Dogma of Biology

DNA, the master genetic code, has an amazing ability to replicate itself. This allows it to copy itself to new cells or repair itself. This means that it can be passed down to new cells or fix itself if it gets damaged. But it's also the mechanism for how we could edit it to fix some health problems at their root.

DNA is mainly found within the secure walls of the nucleus (in eukaryotes). And with its double-stranded, helical structure, it's well-suited for storing and safeguarding information. Think of it as the ultimate archive of biological data. DNA is made up of four nucleotide bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C).

*A trick for remembering which bases form base pairs is sharp letters pair (A & T) and round letters pair (G & C)

But DNA needs to be able to send a message to the rest of the cell in order for the cell to function properly. So, DNA transcribes a copy of a small bit of genetic information as messenger RNA (mRNA). Unlike DNA, which has a double-stranded, helical structure, mRNA is a single-stranded molecule. And there's a good reason why it's temporary - it's simply not as stable as DNA due to the replacement of thymine (T) with uracil (U) in its code.

*RNA is an alternate universe (AU) to DNA and A pairs to U in RNA

But our cell machinery (ribosomes) can't read the directions of mRNA to make proteins. So it needs to be translated into a language that ribosomes understand. This is where transfer RNA (tRNA) comes in. tRNAs are like molecular couriers, carrying specific amino acids to the ribosomes. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and they are assembled in a specific order according to the code on mRNA. This code is read three bases at a time and is called a codon. tRNAs have a matching sequence called an anticodon, which allows them to recognize and attach to the correct codon. As tRNAs with amino acids attach to the mRNA, ribosomes link the amino acids together in a chain (polypeptide) to form a protein.

Once the protein is formed, it can undergo export from the cell, folding, and post-translational modifications to give rise to the diverse range of proteins that our bodies require to function day-to-day.

Exploring the Dogma of Biology is more than just a fascinating concept, it's a vital foundation for countless breakthroughs in medicine, as well as other innovative fields such as high-performance textiles and environmental remediation. Without this fundamental understanding, we would miss out on endless possibilities for enhancing and improving our health and technologies [1].

Health Examples

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a retrovirus, meaning it's RNA that can sneakily insert itself into our DNA and wreak havoc. The ripple effects of HPV invading our DNA can increase the risk of certain cancers. The vaccines helps us create antibodies that prevent this sneaky virus from infiltrating our cells [2].

Antibiotics often work by targeting some point along the Dogma process. Antibiotics may target a part of the process, such as translation, but then microbes find a way around it. It's a never-ending battle! As a result, some diseases, such as tuberculosis, are becoming resistant to antibiotics, which is a major problem. Scientists are now in a race against time to find or create new antibiotics to keep up with the constantly evolving microbial world [1].

Biological Hierarchy

The hierarchy is an extension of our dogma of biology because each level of the hierarchy relies on the one below it to function. Our cell functions and interactions depend on how that genetic information is communicated in the cell. Cells gather together to make tissues (e.g. muscle), tissues build into organs (e.g. the heart), our organs work together in a system (e.g. cardiovascular system), multiple systems make a body, and so on [1]. So if something goes extremely wrong at one level, it causes a domino effect in the whole hierarchy.

Biological hierarchy building from sub-cellular functions into tissues, organs, systems, and an organism
Biological hierarchy building from sub-cellular functions into tissues, organs, systems, and an organism. Thanks to Sheldahl for the tissue level illustration under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Health Examples

Tissue engineering is challenging because it is not just growing cells somewhere. Imagine trying to nudge cells to act the way they would in our incredibly complex, 3D bodies outside of that environment. Not only do they need to behave as they would in the body, but they also need to form the right structures and communications at multiple levels to function correctly. That's very hard to make happen. But the ultimate goal of our efforts to engineer these hierarchies is to repair and replace damaged body parts to improve health and quality of life.

Medications often treat symptoms, not causes. It's like trying to stop the Titanic from sinking by putting duct tape over the gash. Take asthma, for example, where some inhalers contain glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids quickly reduce airway inflammation, but they don't actually fix why the airway became inflamed in the first place. This short-term fix can lead to some serious side-effects, such as bone loss. Fortunately, there is a shift towards developing medications that target the root causes of diseases and minimize unwanted side-effects.

So there you have it! The dogma of biology and biological hierarchy in a nutshell. They are not only important for the medical fields, but also other scientific fields, such as microbiology, biological engineering, and anyone interested in how life works.


[1] Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Morgan D, Raff M, Roberts K, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell 6th edition[Book]. Garland Science; 2014. 1464

[3] Scheper GC, van der Knaap MS, Proud CG. Translation matters: protein synthesis defects in inherited disease. Nat Rev Genet [Internet]. 2007 Sep;8(9):711–23.


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