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.

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

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