The supposed “demon” of physics may have been found lurking within our cells

In 1867, in an attempt to test his ideas about the emerging science of thermodynamics, physicist James Clerk Maxwell imagined Clever devil Sort molecules between two containers based on their energy.

In 2023, a less demonic version of Maxwell’s imaginary demon may have been found.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, proteins found in cell membranes are called… ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters They have features that mimic Maxwell’s demon, allowing them to sort through substrates.

In fact, ABC transporters have been around for billions of years and can be found in almost all living organisms. Moreover, it fits in with nature Laws of thermodynamics.

It turns out that Maxwell was inadvertently describing a fundamental aspect of life.

Illustration of Maxwell’s demons. (Flatt et al., Communications physics2023)

“We have shown that the ABCs are Maxwell’s true demons,” He says Paulo de los Ríos, Head of the Statistical Biophysics Laboratory at EPFL.

“Measurement, feedback, resetting the steps of Maxwell’s demons, the need for energy, and description in terms of thermodynamics of information are all emergent features of the model.”

The demon described by Maxwell controlled a door between two containers of gas, allowing the energetic molecules to go in one direction and the cooler molecules to go in another in defiance of the equilibrium that would have balanced their distribution.

As part of the system (and the magical little devil, who is not dependent on energy himself), the devil will create energy from the energy generated. Temperature difference From none at all.

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ABC Transport
ABC vectors act as Maxwell’s demons. (Flatt et al., Communications physics2023)

naturally The laws of thermodynamics state that energy cannot come from nothing, because effort would be needed to measure and remember the speed of the particles.

However, inconsistencies such as different temperatures in Maxwell boxes are often seen in nature, as are different molecular concentrations inside and outside the cell.

Scientists have Previously suspected Something like Maxwell’s demons may be involved in the energy-intensive process of transporting molecules against the flow of a normal concentration gradient. But this is the first time that the information framework for such a system has been described and designed in a way that harkens back to Maxwell’s famous thought experiment.

What the researchers suggest is that ABC transporters located on cell membranes control the flow of molecules in the same way as Maxwell’s devils, using energy from ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecules to run the process.

The biochemical structure of the transporters then scales, feedbacks and resets, depending on the position of the molecule being transported as shown in the diagram above.

It’s an important discovery, because it teaches us more about how cells are able to organize their environments and function as they need, by managing the import and export of molecules, like a little devil at the cell door.

Although the researchers made some simplifications for their calculations to work, they are confident that what they show in their paper can be applied to more complex systems, systems that are widespread in nature.

“This approach serves as a useful conceptual framework for understanding the complex biochemical circuits of these systems.” He writes The researchers in their published paper.

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The research was published in Communications physics.

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