I think there is an implicit assumption on this issue that something lives when it is made of living parts and that these living parts are atoms.But that is not the case.
For more developed organisms, there is indeed a living building block: the cells.Cells, e.g. body cells or bacteria are the living building blocks of life.
Cells themselves are living beings.They are made of atoms. But what distinguishes a cell from, say, a piece of diamond?
Both consist mainly of carbon atoms.Although the cell also contains other atoms, such as oxygen and hydrogen, the main difference to the lifeless piece of diamond is the arrangement of the atoms to each other: while the atoms of the diamond are arranged in rows and limbs in a grid, the arrangement of the atoms in the cell much more complex.
If we want to understand what a cell is, then we should not see it merely as an arrangement of atoms.Because the atoms of the cell are arranged into molecules in a variety of ways. The same types of atoms form many different molecules, e.g. alanine, leucine and lysine. Alanine, leucine and lysine all consist of the same atoms, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, but differ in the arrangement of the atoms to each other. Through these different arrangements, these molecules have different properties. These properties determine what happens when two molecules collide: for example, they can bind to each other, convert into another molecule, or not interact with each other at all. Molecules can also have the property of reacting to light, which plants use to generate energy.
So let us rather understand cells not as an arrangement of atoms, but rather as an arrangement of molecules.This is similar to if we were to understand a text rather than an arrangement of letters, but as an arrangement of words. Both are correct, a text of course consists of letters, because words consist of letters, but we understand the text better when we look at which words appear in it than when we look at which letters appear in it. It is similar with the cell. That’s why we look at molecules.
So while we have decided that it is wiser to see the cell as a bunch of molecules than a bunch of atoms, this does not apply to the diamond.In the case of diamonds, all atoms are in order and limb. To understand what a diamond is and how it behaves, we just need to know what atoms that are (carbon) and how they stand in order.
So the atoms in the cell are much more chaotic, or say more complex, than the diamond.
They do everything possible and form all sorts of molecules. But even these molecules are not in order! They are arranged to organelles, such as ribosomes, the nucleus and microtubules.
And in addition, all sorts of more complex molecules, such as RNA and enzymes, are swirling back and forth.
The molecules interact with each other, bind to each other, and transform. It’s a cheerful colorful Tralala 🙂
Not as boring as with the diamond where everyone stands in rank and limb and maybe wobbles a bit when it gets too warm.
But: we should not be blinded by this colorful variety and think that everything is just confusing chaos!This whole variety is highly organized! Everything in the cell transforms energy and uses it to divide, protect itself against the outside world, move around or even to perform a specific task in a more complex organism, such as sunlight in sugar transform into a plant.
Wow.Impress, right? Atoms organized into molecules, molecules organized into organelles and cells. And in the end: cells organized to higher living beings. All atoms.
So why does the cell now live – but the diamond doesn’t, even though both are made up of similar atoms?
Because the atoms in the cell are arranged to each other in such a way that they interact in a way that creates an everlasting dance.And this dance keeps itself upright: it protects itself against the outside world, provides itself with the energy it needs to exist and grows.
Life is not the atoms.It’s the dance.