Spontaneous uncoded chemical reactions in living systems?

In summary, spontaneous chemical reactions can occur in living cells, but at a very low rate. These reactions can result in changes in nutrients or electrolytes, and can even lead to toxic or harmful effects if not regulated properly. Enzymes play a crucial role in accelerating these reactions and maintaining homeostasis in the cell. Additionally, some reactions that occur naturally can also be facilitated by microbes, such as in the case of flatulence. However, the chances of these natural reactions occurring are very low due to the presence of enzymes and regulatory mechanisms in the cell.
  • #1
icakeov
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How easy (or not) is it for spontaneous chemical reactions to occur in a living cell, but particularly reactions that are not a result of and between coded molecules?

For example, when we eat food, in the process while the essential molecules are being taken to be integrated into "coded molecules", aren't they constantly looking to interact with other molecules around them? I am not including invading bacteria or viruses, I am mainly thinking monomers, functional groups, lipids, etc.

For example, could some polymers spontaneously form during that time? And then react with some other simple or complex molecules. Or is the organism's environment so "regulated" that something like this could rarely happen?

Any feedback appreciated!
 
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  • #2
I think you are asking - can a nutrient change into something else non-nutritive or become a major problem ? or maybe detrimental? yes to both.
The obvious followup is 'what causes this to happen'? Simple answer: environment.

One kind of simple example: way wrong amounts or too long a duration of larger than required amounts (sort of a slow overdose) of a molecule or nutrient.
Selenium, Vitamin D, Vitamin A (retinol) are all required nutrients by humans. In high quantity, i.e., relative to what is required, they all become toxic to humans.
One of the problems here is these molecules get changed into something not useful, because the body does not have the machinery to detoxify the normally transient intermediate storage form. Simply too much: Vitamin D is actually a hormone and can cause rapid buildups of calcium deposits in arteries. Not good.

Another example:
Electrolytes are in a delicate balance (Na, K, Ca, Mg) - when they go wonky for environmental reasons like heat exhaustion or dehydration, it can mean death.

You need to read about homeostasis:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis
 
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  • #3
Great, Jim, that is so helpful, and great examples. The only one I could think of was flatulence.. :)
Will explore it further now, thanks for the link!
 
  • #4
All of the reactions that occur in the cell that are facilitated by coded molecules can also occur naturally in solution. Because the activation barrier (the energy level for the intermediate molecules) is typically high however these reactions occur at a very low rate. That's the whole purpose of enzymes is to greatly accelerate these naturally occurring reactions.

The word 'spontaneous' is typically used to refer to exothermic reactions, which is where the products are more stable than the reactants. The opposite of this is endothermic reactions, where the products are less stable than the reactants. They can also occur naturally in solution, even though they will likely be reversed afterwards. They also typically have high activation barriers just like spontaneous reactions and thus will also occur at a very low rate.

Molecules are also reacting randomly with many other molecules - at a very low rate. Your example of polymerization can occur as well although however there are mechanisms in place however to degrade and get rid of unwanted products. The best example of this would be enzymes that neutralize naturally produced free radicals.

Flatulence is caused by bacterial anaerobic fermentation of human-indigestible carbohydrates, which takes several different reactions working in sequence (a pathway). Again, it's possible for these reactions to occur naturally however there's so many bacteria in our gut and they work so quickly that the natural reactions are vanishingly few compared to the ones facilitated by microbes. The chance that one complex carbohydrate could go through all the necessary reactions naturally to produce methane is vanishingly tiny.
 
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  • #5
That is so helpful! Thank you NC_Seattle!
 

Related to Spontaneous uncoded chemical reactions in living systems?

1. What are spontaneous uncoded chemical reactions in living systems?

Spontaneous uncoded chemical reactions in living systems refer to chemical reactions that occur without any external input or direction, and are not caused by specific genetic coding. These reactions are a natural part of biological processes and are necessary for maintaining life.

2. How do these reactions differ from coded reactions?

Spontaneous uncoded reactions differ from coded reactions in that they are not controlled by specific genes or enzymes. Coded reactions, on the other hand, are directed by genetic coding and typically require specific enzymes to occur.

3. What is an example of a spontaneous uncoded reaction in living systems?

One example of a spontaneous uncoded reaction is the process of cellular respiration, where glucose is broken down into energy without the need for specific genetic coding or enzymes.

4. Are these reactions important for living organisms?

Yes, spontaneous uncoded reactions are vital for the functioning and survival of living organisms. They play a crucial role in processes such as metabolism, growth, and reproduction.

5. Can spontaneous uncoded reactions be influenced by external factors?

While spontaneous uncoded reactions do not require external input to occur, they can still be influenced by external factors such as temperature, pH, and the presence of certain chemicals. These factors can impact the rate and efficiency of these reactions.

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