Biological Organization at the Cellular and Supercellular Level: A Symposium Held at Varenna, 24-27 September, 1962, under the Auspices of UNESCO

By R. J. C. Harris | Go to book overview

THE KINETIC STRUCTURE OF ORGANISMS

H. KACSER
Department of Animal Genetics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland


SUMMARY

The specific properties of an organism arise from its catalytic constitution. In particular, the enzymatic part catalyzes the production of specific end products. Within the organism enzymes never act in isolation but are coupled in groups by the substrates they share. Many of the effects of environmental variation are buffered out by properties of the system arising from the interactions of the enzymatic steps. Furthermore, the kinetic analysis of open systems shows that within such groups, called Rheons, the catalytic activity is of negligible importance within wide limits of its values. Consequently much genic variation can occur without being reflected in the phenotype. These systemic properties are necessary kinetic consequences of enzyme systems and not properties of any one entity. A second set of interactions is between the catalytic constitution and the boundary conditions. The latter are often vested in pre-existing states or structures which are inherited autonomously and which may equally contribute to the specification of the organism.


INTRODUCTION

It is well known that organisms consist of molecules. It should, therefore, be possible to account for biological behaviour in terms of molecular behaviour. Yet it is evident that the complete enumeration, even were it possible, of all the molecules within an organism would not account for any but its most trivial aspects. The reason for this is, of course, that an organism is not simply a mixture but a system of interacting molecules. It is therefore to these interactions that we must look for an elucidation of biological behaviour.

It will be the thesis of this paper that molecular interactions impose on the organism a "structure" which is sui generis, that is, that properties necessarily arise due to the presence of many different reactions coupled within the same space. The useful experimental device of isolating single steps may lead us to view the organism logically as a sum of single consequences. The widespread phenomena of dominance, pleiotropy and epistasis in genetics and of regulation and differentiation in embryology have shown the inadequacy of such a view. There is, however, as yet no comprehensive scheme which links the evidence for the unitary genetic determination of protein structure with the

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