Here’s a nice video to help you visualize the process of self-assembly:

As Kathryn Applegate comments:

sub-assemblies form and break apart en route to the most stable structure, the full capsid. As the sub-assemblies begin to form, further associations with free subunits become more favorable and as a result occur rapidly, while the final steps may take considerably longer. While the subunits in the model are rigid, in reality the proteins take on multiple conformations, allowing the capsid to “breathe.”

Self-assembly is a brilliant strategy to facilitate nanotechnology.  In their book on nanotechnology, Mark and Daniel Ratner outline several methods of constructing nanostructures and conclude that self-assembly holds the greatest potential.  The alternatives are nanoscale versions of bulldozing, rubber-stamping, and writing with an old fashioned dip pen, all of which restrict your output.  The only serious alternative to self-assembly is Drexler’s notion of an assembler, but that does not look feasible for many reasons as explained in The Design Matrix.

Yet, in essence, cells do have an “assembler” – it’s called the ribosome.  But the assembly-aspect of the ribosome boils down to creating peptide bonds between amino acids.  It is the physico-chemical properties of the linked amino acids which then enable the chain to fold into the 3D conformations that in turn tap into the realm of self-assembly.  Outstanding. In this case, the assembler itself self-assembles (although the order of mixing becomes important).

Of course, self-assembly fits very comfortably within the hypothesis of front-loading.

6 responses to “Self-assembly

  1. Is this where I start the drum roll for IFT?

  2. Self assembly exploits self organization

  3. Self assembly is one thing, but doesn’t the ribosome constantly self assemble and disassemble? In fact, don’t most cellular machines constantly tear themselves down and build themselves up again?

  4. Hi Guts,

    That’s why I brought up the IFT, which usually, but not always assembles cilia. I’ve been sitting here by the rabbit hole, humming and tapping my fingers, waiting for the white rabbit to show up. He’s late again, as usual

  5. Hi Bilbo,

    LOL. That’s good. Unfortunately, you’ll be waiting for a few months. I want to do the IFT thing like I did with the Alu elements and then introns. But I’ve just begun a major home improvement project that is too distracting. Right now, I’m sitting in a room that is almost empty except for the computer and will soon begin tearing it down. And then I have to do it to another room. Once I tear them down and put them back together, I put the IFT thang together as a reward to myself.

  6. Oh no. If you go to work on your house, then I’ll have to go to work on my house. Depressing thought.

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