Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tiny Tug-of-War

I never got past introductory physics in college, particularly since I put off taking it until my senior year. Many of the basic concepts had shown up every so many years in grade school, but college really tied it together & for a brief time I could run the equations in my sleep. Lots of the problems involve springs and pulleys and other simple mechanical gadgets.

Last week's Nature contains a paper which is in the growing field of doing experiments on springs and other simple machines -- except here the gadgets are biomolecular machines, in this case the E.coli ribosome. The technologies are a bit fancier than what we had in grade school -- optical traps and such -- but in the end the desired measurements are similar -- what force does it take to balance (or overcome) a force within the molecular machine.

A huge book on my father's bookshelf was The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, which had all sorts of tables of useful measured values and derived constants. I have the 1947 edition on my bookshelf, a present from one of my father's friends -- though I confess I've never done more than flip the pages of either one. There must be an electronic, molecular biological equivalent out there with the sort of data from this paper, but I don't know where it is. I could use it periodically -- I was recently trying to find rate and accuracy figures for RNA polymerase and the ribosome, and it isn't easy to do & I'm not sure I trust what I've found.

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