Biological systems are self-maintaining. They have to be. Your cells are little factories, performing tasks crucial to maintaining this thing we call life. And just like in factories, machinery (organelles) break down. Waste (metabolic byproducts) must be managed. Security teams need to be in place to keep intruders (bacteria and viruses) from disrupting operations.
For life to sustain itself, cells must perform this crucial work themselves. It’s not like we can send in microscopic maintenance workers, mechanics, and security details to handle the dirty work from the outside. Not really, not yet anyway. One of the most important types of biological maintenance is a process called autophagy.
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Autophagy, from the Greek for “self-eating,” is one of the most basic and most essential processes for maintaining cellular homeostasis. Although you probably don’t think about yourself as an ambulatory collection of cells, that’s exactly what you are. Every second of the day, each of your cells is creating and using energy, communicating with other cells, relaying sensory information, churning out proteins, immune system components, and other chemicals, and doing all the other things that add up to you.
That’s hard, busy, sometimes messy work. Things can go wrong. Parts wear out. Your cells need a way to keep themselves in tip-top shape by removing broken or dysfunctional parts, cleaning out clutter, and fending off attack from outside invaders. Enter autophagy. It’s cellular pruning, and it’s an important part of staving off the worst aspects of the aging process and allowing cells to operate normally.
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