Life and Medical Sciences
Cell & Developmental Biology
Wiley InterScience Backfile Collection 1832-2000
Cellular motile systems as diverse as muscle and the mitotic spindle have been compared by their specific power output: the maximum power they develop per unit of engine volume. Striated muscles and flagella have high specific output; their performance is comparable to that of typical automobile engines. The cytokinetic furrow and the mitotic spindle have very much lower specific power output. The furrow's output is 7,000 times lower than muscle and the spindle's is 300,000 times lower. Different macromolecules have been used to generate power in systems with similar output (muscles and flagella) and, conversely, the same macromolecular motor has been used in systems with very different output (muscles and cytokinetic furrows). The common feature amid this diversity is adaptation to a particular biological role, which specific power output reflects very well. High values are found where a powerful, compact engine should be advantageous, while low values are found where precision, not power, matters most.
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