Light gave life a chance to be. Without it, our planet would not be inhabited by so many living beings of all shapes and sizes. Over time, animals, plants and all sorts of microorganisms have emerged and evolved using this source of photons in different ways. Like hosts of other creatures, we use light for vision so that we can discern individual entities that make up our environment, as well as movement within it. Bereft of that faculty, it becomes difficult to hunt prey, shun predators and attract a mate - life's basic needs for all species. Not all species have eyes though, so have devised different ways of coping with these needs. But they still use light for other purposes such as the vital metabolic pathway known as photosynthesis in plants, circadian rhythms or metabolism changes in bacteria for instance. Light can also stimulate movement, as is the case for the very small worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. However, for all this to happen, there has to be a system in each of these organisms that can catch light and transform it to meet their requirements. This is done by way of photoreceptor proteins. And C.elegans uses one of a very special kind which is known as high-energy light unresponsive 1, or Lite-I.
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Tales From A Small World is a collection of the first hundred articles which originally appeared on this site. Published in September 2009, the book is enriched by poems from the Dublin poet, Pat Ingoldsby. Learn more and order your copy online.
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Snapshot : Nav1.7
Though uncomfortable, the feeling of pain is necessary. It is like a sixth sense. If you break a leg, there’s a fair chance that you would call for help, rather than try to walk. And burning your hand once is warning enough to avoid it happening a second time. Pain exists for a purpose. When felt, our spontaneous reaction is to immobilise what hurts so that it can rest and restore itself. The memory of pain is just as crucial since it prevents us from repeating a prior painful experience which damaged a part of our body. It is for this precise reason that a young Pakistani boy spent a lot of his time in hospital. He was a busker who walked across red hot charcoal. Without ever feeling pain. How is this possible? Recently, scientists found a protein which seems to at the heart of insensitivity to pain: the Nav1.7 protein.
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