Harun Yahya

Disposal of Cellular Waste at the Right Place and the Right Time: The Miracle of Autophagy

Cell cleaning has attracted worldwide attention thanks to Yoshinori Ohsumi winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine in October 2016. Yoshinori Ohsumi, in his research that earned him the award, revealed the details of the "autophagy" process, which cleans the cell of its old or damaged structures and recycles the undamaged ones by degrading the cell's own components. Ohsumi also identified the genes that coordinate this process. In addition to it being a scientific development that may well lead to a cure for some deadly diseases, this discovery also revealed once more the infinite might and wisdom of Almighty God.

The Tasks of the Autophagy Process

Autophagy, a perfect mechanism our Lord created in the cell, has two important tasks.  The first is the removal of harmful and unnecessary wastes from the cell, i.e., cleaning; the other is the reuse of useful parts of these wastes, i.e., recycling.

The First Task: Cleaning

Autophagy is regulated by a protein called ATG1. These groups of proteins regulate the detection of defective cells, and the removal of viruses, bacteria, and damaged or unnecessary materials from the cell. However, this process needs to be tightly controlled to prevent the removal of materials that are still required in the cell because accidentally throwing away the required materials would have hazardous consequences for the body. Raffaela Torggler, one of the authors of the study, points out to the lethal consequences of any erroneous actions in the cell during autophagy as follows:

"You would not want to accidentally throw away your TV set while cleaning up your apartment, would you?  For a cell, aberrant activation of autophagy could easily have lethal consequences."

Second Task: Recycling

Autophagy also works like recycling stations in towns. Through this recycling mechanism, the body degrades the cells. New cells are formed via the energy obtained from the useful parts. Thus, in the case of food insufficiency or long-term starvation, it breaks down its own components and recycles the building blocks, ensuring the survival of the cell.

The Key Regulator of Autophagy: Protein ATG1

The ATG1 protein, the key regulator of autophagy, has a vital function.  Researcher Claudine Kraft and her team published this regulatory role of ATG1 protein in "Molecular Cell" magazine in 2014. However, how the ATG1 and the autophagy process are controlled so impeccably had remained elusive until recently in the scientific community. Now, the team of Claudine Kraft, an Associate Professor at the University of Vienna discovered that ATG1 was regulated both with regards to space and time. Research has shown that ATG1 could be activated and autophagy was initiated only when precise requirements were met.

To start the process, both the key regulator ATG1 and the "waste" to be discarded are separately brought to the waste packaging location. Here, the waste is put in cellular "garbage bags."  The presence of both ATG1 and the waste at the same time and at the same place is crucial for the activation of ATG1 and the initiation of autophagy.  Kraft and her team found that the cell allowed ATG1 to meet the waste only at the site of waste packaging. This tight time and space restriction on autophagy initiation, prevented its aberrant activation. Any problem with this time-space restrictions will cause the waste materials to build up in the cell, triggering diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer, and thus initiating a possibly lethal process for the individual. As can be seen, unconscious molecules that have no possibility of communicating with each other, unfailingly meet at the right time and place. 

The Autophagy Process Under Constant Control in the Body

In a normal cell, two coordinators bring ATG1 and the waste to the waste packaging site, independently from each other. When these coordinators are removed from the cell, the waste and ATG1 cannot meet and autophagy is not induced. This extensive and effective quality control network must be operational at all times so that the cell can perform its functions in a healthy way. Without these coordinators in the cells, it is impossible for ATG1 and the waste to be in the same place at the right time to initiate the regulatory step that will active autophagy. In such a case, ATG1 cannot remove defective cells, viruses, bacteria, damaged or unnecessary materials from the cell via autophagy. The body can prevent diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and maintain healthy metabolism because this vital mechanism functions properly. The detailed study of such cellular processes is crucial for the understanding of diseases that go hand in hand with these events. In the case that the autophagy method is induced artificially, it will be possible to develop better treatment methods and prevent some diseases in the long run.

Thus far, we have seen proteins clean and reuse waste through recycling and know when and where to start these processes and do all of these with a marvelous mind and organization. Undoubtedly, this flawless order in our bodies cannot be due to the expertise of invisible and unconscious proteins  because decision-making is an ability that is peculiar to conscious creatures who can think and evaluate.  So, how can molecules comprising of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms have the ability to make a decision? Of course, the ones that have this ability are not the unconscious molecules. He is our Almighty Lord, Who takes this decision, inspires it to the cell and makes the cell function in line with this decision. This system within the cell represents only one of the proofs of His infinite knowledge and superior creation. In the Qur'an, God's art of creation is informed as follows:

Does He who created the heavens and earth not have the power to create the same again? Yes indeed! He is the Creator, the All-Knowing. His command when He desires a thing is just to say to it, ‘Be!’ and it is. Glory be to Him Who has the Dominion of all things in His Hand. To Him you will be returned. (Surah Ya Sin, 81-83)


University of Vienna. (2016, October 20). Taking out the cellular 'trash' at the right place and the right time: New possibilities for the regulation of molecular processes. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161020092503.htm

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