Constructive futility

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Idleness is not encouraged in our parts of the world. With our twisted notion of Carpe diem, the days are filled with things we have to do and things we would like to do. Many of which we do. Adolescents, lost in the depths of a settee, are told by their parents to "go out and do something". Dreamers are told that they are wasting their time. The only time a lack of productivity is tolerated is when, lying on our back in a cot, we can stare for hours on end at objects dangling above us. This is because we know that though, for adults, it may just be a case of suspended shapes, for a baby it is like reading a book: the baby is learning, its senses are awakening. Nature, too, sometimes opts for what may seem counter-productive. Though life usually depends on a subtle balance between what is produced and what is gained with as little loss as possible, there are instances when the production of excess is actually vital. Body heat relies on this. When temperatures drop, to keep our system warm, our body fat produces excess chemical energy which is not used but rather 'lost' in the form of heat. For this, fat cells need to kickstart a process known as the futile creatine cycle. One of the enzymes involved in such a cycle is 'tissue nonspecific alkaline phosphatase', or TNAP.

SwissProt
Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

More from Protein Spotlight

Tales From A Small World

Tales From A Small World cover

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.

Journey Into A Tiny World

Journey Into A Tiny World cover

« Globin and Poietin set out to save Lily's life. But time is running short and they can't find the marrow... Here is the tale of their courage, fun and laughter on a journey that takes them deep into the tiniest of worlds.» For children. Learn more and order your copy online.

Snapshot : Oxytocin

What could sexual habits, maternal instinct, socializing and contraction of the uterus have in common? Oxytocin. Though very modest in length – barely 9 amino acids long – the number of major functions in which oxytocin is involved, is almost indecent.

A little bit of praise!

“I recently stumbled upon your columns. Let me congratulate you on achieving the near impossible, for your articles have enabled me to successfully marry IT with the Life Sciences and better explain the concepts of bioinformatics to those who are not in the know of the field.

Your articles are very well written, lucid, and contain just enough information to excite the reader to want to learn more about the topic being discussed. They fall in a very rare category where they are accessible to everyone, from the undergraduate students to research students who want to have a basic idea of the topics being discussed. Some of your articles, like "Our hollow architecture" and "Throb" are outstanding pieces.

I would highly recommend your articles as a necessary reading in undergrad classes to get students inspired about the various avenues of research.”

— Rohan Chaubal, Senior Researcher in Genomics

Thank you to Beth Hanson whose work we reproduce on our site!