Working Hypothesis

Cancer appears common because one in three of us will be diagnosed with it, but this statistic belies the nature of the disease. If cancer is, at least sometimes, a manifestation that results from only a few errors produced along a string of 10^9 active nucleotides in but one of 10^13 cells that reproduce perhaps 10^3 times or more in our lifetime - then, maybe, when we are looking for the physical causes of cancer, we should be looking for causes linked to very rare events and phenomena related to isotopes, neutron decay, gravitational cycles, or perturbations in chirality that are expected to occur within any structure that includes 10^25 elements. 'One-in-a-million' type events occur all the time in the cell. Errors smaller that the 5-sigma confidence level might seem trivial to us, but they are huge in the vernacular of a cell. Even 'one-in-a-million-billion' type events should be expected to occur frequently enough to warrant consideration (events hiding 9-sigmas deep into our statistics). We, as physicists, biologists, and chemists often ignore deviations of 10^-20 because they typically fall outside of experimental error. But, as a result, their possible significance gets statistically truncated and removed from our definitions. Simply put, numbers on the left side of the decimal point tend to garner more attention than numbers on the right. Dollars garner more attention than pennies. But, the cell evolved in an environment without decimal point distinction. It may be argued that it is phenomena that produce a slow accumulation of small numbers far to the right of the decimal point that potentially leads to cancer - and, therefore, it is these phenomena that warrant greater research.

The following arguments are founded on principles associated with established physics that reference fine-scaled 'far-to-the-right-of-the-decimal-point' phenomena, but which fall well within the 9-sigma threshold needed before the conjecture can be justifiably dismissed. Accordingly, we hope to encourage feedback and analysis that will lead to the confirmation, refutation, or evolution of these arguments. New conjecture will be posted regularly towards the bottom of this home page.

Heavy isotopes have surplus neutrons which are fine when bound into the atomic nucleus, but not so nice to be around when free. For practical reasons, we most often treat molecules as being comprised of their common isotopic forms (C12, N14, O16, etc...), but in biological environments like the cell, where there are roughly 10^12 molecules, we must expect to find rare combinations of even the least common isotopes. Such off-rhythm molecules likely become embedded into nucleotides and subsequently woven into DNA during the duplication or repair processes. Can the accumulation of such isotopes within DNA lead to mismatched base pairs and mutations? (First posted: 1.22.17/Most recent additions: 2.25.17)

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Free neutrons typically decay into a proton, electron and an anti-neutrino. But physicists have postulated a less frequent bound beta-decay event (BoB) where the neutron decays into a stable hydrogen atom and an antineutrino! Such an event would be significant for biology because a volume hosting a neutron - initially treated as compact and neutral - must then be seen as convertible into a volume which is much less compact and one in which the charges on the constituent ions will subsequently interact electromagnetically with their surroundings. This "long-shot event" has a branching ratio of only 10^-6 and requires a near-perfect balance between the energy and angular momentum, but physics labs in Germany and the United States are among several currently looking for the BoB event. It may be argued that while a branching ratio of 10^-6 may be rare in the lab, such ‘one-in-a-million’ type events are less so in the body where we consider possible decay events within 10^+9 base-pairs within 10^13 cells. Might biological organisms have evolved with sufficient control over their molecular environment to facilitate or control this decay event? (Posted: 1.22.17).

To enjoy this argument, we need to apply a lesson we learned from relativity theory over a century ago. This is a lesson NASA also uses whenever it applies the gravity assist (slingshot) method to send a probe to a distance planet. When we look at the motion of a body standing on the surface of the earth from the reference frame of the earth-sun system, we find that the kinetic energy of the body varies depending on the time of day - the value being higher at midnight. for example, than it is at noon. This is a simple result of the combination of rotational velocity u and orbital velocity v of the body. Critically, the kinetic energy of a body gravitationally bound to the earth, is not the proper orbital energy the body should have for its position and trajectory relative to the sun. This imbalance introduces a torque which acts between the supporting surface and the body which subsequently must be driven inwards to the cell. Such torque has obvious day/night circadian rhythm; can this torque be used as a driving force for cell activity? (Posted: 1.22.17).

When an external force acts on a perfectly symmetrical solid body, the body moves as a unit without internal change and the resulting motion is rather uninteresting. However, when an external force acts on a fluid body such as a cell, there are many fascinating properties associated with the internal motions. One of the most intriguing deductions that can be made is simply the observation that asymmetry in the mass distribution within a cell provides a distinct advantage for any internal organelle which looks to apply torque into its environment. Can it be rationally argued that the familiar asymmetrical position of the nucleus in the cell provides a means for capturing this energy potential? Can the functional advantage of the asymmetrical position of the nucleus be associated with the particular function of the type of cell? Further, can it be shown that the cell's ability to tap external (gravitational and electromagnetic) forces to perform internal chores is a function of the shape and position of the nucleus within the cell, and that the maintenance of these properties becomes as essential part of cell activity? (Posted: 1.22.17)

Imagine a group of skydivers who jump from an airplane with their arms and legs extended. They quickly reach a common terminal velocity of roughly 54 mps and with small adjustments in their respective aerodynamic configuration, they can fall in close proximity together. If the skydivers had no knowledge of gravitation or of the clear fluid they were travelling through (air), the physics they would deduce that governs their motion would look very peculiar. Skydivers learn they can move 'down' by tucking their arms into their body, and they can move 'up' simply by re-extending them. They find that extending only one arm induces a rotation, and if several skydivers coordinate their motion they can spin their entire group. Indeed, we might imagine how, if the skydivers could fall together for an extended time period - say, for a few years - and they shared a desire for cooperative proficiency, they could learn to perform quite complicated maneuvers.

A skydiver's dream? Perhaps. But might there be a justifiable comparison here with the geometric precision executed when a polypeptide chain is folded up into a protein? Isn't the motion of a protein and its ability to function properly a product of its peculiar geometry? Terminal velocity is established when the force of gravity pulling a mass downwards is balanced by the drag force resisting that motion. In a viscous fluid like we have in the cytosol, the drag is quite high and the terminal velocity is very low - but the principle applies to all objects falling through fluids. We often forget about gravitational forces when we look at the cell through a microscope because the small gravitational signal is swamped by faster motions associated with pressure gradients and thermal activity. But large-scale motion occurring over long time intervals tend to be governed by gravitation and thus its role should not be dismissed. Further, as anyone who has ever travelled within a car full of helium balloons will testify to, fluid mechanics within contained environments looks very different from the familiar Newtonian mechanics of free space. Accordingly, might we find value in extending the lessons learned by skydivers into conjecture about proteins and their function? (Posted: 1.22.17)

While it is common for us to recognize how each time we raise our hand or climb a stairway we exert energy to combat the force of the earth's gravity, we tend to dismiss the exertion our body also makes to combat the gravitational force from the sun. It is small, but not trivial. The gravitational force from the sun is roughly 1/1650-th that of the earth's, and it produces an acceleration that changes in direction with circadian precision that each element in the cell must manage. That is important on many levels, but perhaps the most intriguing is the effect the acceleration has on the internal spin of molecules. When a spinning mass is placed into a gravitational field, it becomes subjected to a torque causing it to precess. The precession rate and the associated rotational energy are functions of the magnitude and direction of the acceleration - but they are also functions of the geometry of the spinning mass. The cell can gain an energy incentive if it can find a method to track these cycles and steer key biological activity to the low energy thresholds in the precession cycles. Might the geometry of biological molecules (DNA, proteins, enzymes, etc…) have evolved to synchronize their precession rates with the induced torque and energy cycles associated with circadian (~24-hr) periods known to be expressed in all plants, insects and animals, and monthly (~28-day) periods known to be expressed in humans? (Posted: 1.22.17).

All the amino acids in the body except one share the same odd left-handed chirality – an essential property for the cell to maintain life. A well-known coincidence from particle physics is that elementary particles involved in beta-decay exhibit the same odd left-handedness. It seems natural to try and find a common link. When we look at molecules with a resolution of a few angstroms, chirality is typically determined by its bonding structure. But might we think of the electron orbital structure as a ‘first order impression’ of chirality with a more accurate definition extended into a finer level of discernment that includes isotope position and nuclear spin? Might we consider the small energy changes associated with spin orientation in the earth's magnetic field as an important characteristic for the cell to also manage? (Posted: 1.22.17).

One of the important lessons we can borrow from the field of particle physics is a perspective that reminds us that the objects we study should NOT be considered as the sum of the products we see when those objects decay. By example, we see the neutron decay into a 'proton', an 'electron' and an 'anti-neutrino', but the neutron is not to be thought of as being comprised of these three particles. Those labels are properties that pertain only to the neutron's unbound structure. When bound, the neutron is to be considered as being comprised of two 'down quarks' and one 'up quarks', which obtain their own [sense of object] through the interaction of nuclear forces mediated by gluons. This is an abstract but simple notion. The relevant question for biology is: should this notion be applied to the structure of DNA?

The images below are three of the highest resolution images we have of DNA. Can we scientifically justify the statement that this structure is simply a supercoiled state of the Watson-Crick model? Might we instead consider the W-C model as the opened up decayed state of DNA and consider other possible configurations for its 'bound' (chromosome) state? While the W-C model might be the most likely structural configuration - the structure we would bet on if we were to roll the dice once, are there less probable configuration states that might arise if we were to roll the dice 10^9 times? And, might some of these ‘one-in-a-billion’, ‘drop-it-from-the-data’ type alternatives be responsible for mutation events that lead to cancer. (Posted: 1.22.17)

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The unusual properties of the hydrogen bond facilitate the formation of large patterns of coordinated spin and clustering in water. Research at Berkeley, Harvard and other universities have produced the following quotes: “Although hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds, they can form long–lived structures of water clusters.” ... “quantum tunneling processes…rearrange the H-bond on time scales ranging from about 1 μs to 1 ps.” ...“sharp rotation-tunneling structures (have been) measured for (D2O)2.” And, one more - describing the difficulty in observing and calculating the large-scale structure of these manifolds: “Although it is clear that the hydrogen bond network and its fluctuations and re-arrangement dynamics determine the properties of the liquid, no experimental studies exist that reveal detailed information on a molecular level without considerable interpretation….A principal obstacle to resolving these issues is that of correctly describing the many-body, or cooperative nature of the hydrogen bonding interactions among a collection of (water) molecules.”

It is, therefore, rational to conjecture whether mechanisms might have evolved within the cell to form and control lcoalized H-bond spin networks. There are some tremendous biological advantages gained by such control. Spin networks might allow the cytosol to act as a bank for angular momentum and rotational energy – one that local proteins might tap to perform their duties. Spin manifolds might be used to direct and transport molecules between functional destinations - such as directing mRNA towards ribosomes. Research has shown that when water clusters ‘break’, two opposing rotations are sent swirling in opposite directions at pico-second time intervals. If we’re looking to move stuff around in the cell, this seems like a pretty good mechanism to consider.

Perhaps equally intriguing is a geometrical link. Water clusters have been modeled to form torsional manifolds with diameters as large as 30 angstroms, but solutions for larger manifolds are expected. When DNA is packaged as a nucleosome, wound around a series of histones, each histone has a core that is roughly the same diameter of the imagined water manifolds ~ 50 angstroms. Might histone structure couple with these torsional manifolds and spin networks in the cytosol to help drive activity in distant parts of the cell? (Posted: 1.21.17).

The tidal accelerations produced by the moon and the sun on a fluid body the size of a eukaryotic cell (roughly ~10^-5 meters) are very small - of order 10^-19 m/s^2 - and it is hard to imagine how they might play a significant role in cell activity. However, there is another small gravitational force acting on the cell that is often overlooked - that produced by the earth's gravitation. The earth produces a tidal acceleration that is roughly 100 million times larger than that from the sun or moon, but it is often overlooked because the earth seems stationary as we stand upon it rather that circling around us in the sky each day. But tidal forces are generated by relative change, and each time our bodies move or rotate, our cell experiences a new wave of tidal forces. The acceleration is still small - roughly 10^-11 m/s^2 - but it is not zero. The energy associated with such repeated accelerations is just large enough for the cell to take notice. Thus, might organelles have evolved a method for harvesting this resource and managing their motion to put this energy to use? (Posted: 1.22.17).

While the body has learned to adjust to slow accelerations (running, jumping, etc...), it has always had difficulty correcting for more rapid accelerations (impact after falling from a cliff, automobile collisions, the tea-cup ride at an amusement park, etc...). When a person travels in an airplane, their body becomes subjected to another type of acceleration that, prior to 1903, our cells never previously encountered in their 3 billion year history of fidgeting around on this earth - sustained artificial acceleration. When we travel aboard a long airline flight, say from California to Scotland, our bodies become subjected to 11 hours of small abnormal change in its natural centrifugal and gravitational environment. If, as conjectured above in Topic VI, the cell cycle is at least partially dependent on the precession rate associated with elementary spin characteristics of proteins, enzymes and the like, then changes in acceleration will alter the period of this precession. Accordingly, after such travel, we can expect the rhythm of the cell to be phase shifted. The magnitude of the shift will depend on the specific path of travel and the speed of the plane. Further, when we analyze the relative change in accelerations from the reference frame of the sun, it can be shown that the expected shifts are different for the eastward bound traveller than they are for the westbound traveller. These are also characteristic found to be associated with the infliction known as jet-lag. Thus, we conjecture that the altered precession rate associated with sustained abnormal artificial accelerations might be the cause of the altered cell rhythm we often experience after long air flights.

[coming soon]

XII: A Non-Newtonian Chord Potential in Kinetic Fluids?

XIII: DNA Methylation, Acetylation, and the Torque Connection?

XIV: Molecular Wrenches?

XV: Nuclear Spin, Fine-Scale Energy Balance and the Cell Cycle?

XVI: Calm Evolutionary Origins?

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