Memoir of an Organelle.
By a former lysosome of Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476610.
Interpreted and abridged by world-renowned chemists Julia Moore and Dania Zamora.
The organelles of Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476610 were a happy bunch, if the structures of a cell can be labeled with emotions. I am a lysosome, a humble trash collector. Soon, however, in less than a millisecond, I will be nothing, deleted, dead material, ironically similar to what I digested in the past. (Thankfully, the method of communication, so phenomenal and record-breaking that the translators cannot share it in any great detail, involves interpretation of patterns in a basic form of light, transmitted by the organelle. Light, of course, moves at the greatest speed ever discovered, so the translators were able to receive the organelle’s narrative before the last millisecond of its life was over.)
Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476610 is dying, as it well deserves. But I must start at the beginning. It wasn’t always like this.
As I said before, we were normal, good, correct. Surrounded in our secluded sanctuary of cytoplasm, organelles like me flitting and bobbing here and there, larger ones spanning themselves across the expanse of the cell. Our world was small and safe, our concerns small and insignificant.
It was simple, comparatively, but not as simple as it may seem.
Our god and king, of course, was our nucleus, the center and head and source of all knowledge, thought, and complexity, who gave us, its simple workers, made only to carry out its grand designs, all we knew about the other cells, cell growth, tissues, and about the great and mysterious parts of the body so far away that only vague rumors of them reached us. It was very difficult for us organelles, especially lower organelles such as I, to comprehend that there was a world outside of the cell, but easier for me than for others. I at least understood that there were other cells around ours, and I delighted in hearing news about Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476611, or, as it liked to call itself, ‘'Whizzer,' a neighboring cell who ours had an especially close connection and bond to.
We organelles were classified socially according to our roles, complexity, and importance in the functioning of the cell. The highest classification of organelles included those which synthesized, modified, or produced substances. The next rank included organelles used for other cell processes such as mitosis, and following these were organelles critical for transport, as there was always a great importance placed on the transport of substances. After this came organelles responsible for breaking down or digesting substances (such as myself), and lastly came storage organelles and those that had little apparent significance in the cell.
The mitochondria, the producers of energy, had the most character of the organelles. To us lower organelles, they were feisty, fearless, powerful, proud, and haughty, more capable of emotion and thought than we. When they floated past, we could feel the energy buzzing around them, and we marvelled, assuming it to be their aura of power. However, despite these traits, the most fascinating to us was their possession of DNA. This was by far their most impressive characteristic, for DNA was royal, considered precious and sacred above all. This and other traits made them superior in our minds, indescribably cool and intriguing. It seemed we could never comprehend their complexity, or what they were capable of doing.
Following the mitochondria, the Endoplasmic Reticulum, smooth or rough, with its complexity and countless roles in transport and other inner workings of the cell, was also considered very highly. The larger organelles were more measured, slow, and purposeful than we, the smaller organelles, and the ER was one of these gentle giants. Another, which would be ranked right after it, was the Golgi apparatus. Its interesting and complex structure and shape, and crucial role in protein modification, sorting, and packaging, made it highly regarded as well. The golgi body produced me and my fellow lysosomes which, although this isn’t so crucial of a role, is important when I view the story through my lens, because it is where I began.
An exception of the hierarchy laws was ribosomes, which, even though they synthesized vital protein building blocks and their structure was relatively complex, were considered less important than would be expected, mainly because of their immense profusion. They would probably be classified with the importance of transport organelles, although it is hard to tell. The ribosomes had their own society and their own world, separate and different from our own, preferring each other over other organelles. We seemed strangers to them, for they couldn’t seem to understand us the way they did each other, and they were in constant communication amongst themselves.
Next in the classification order were the rod-like centrioles, because of their critical roles in mitosis, a process of highest importance and reverence in the cell. Following these in ranking were the transport vesicles, the cytoskeleton, and the plasma membrane, a very interesting organelle, but to whom it was very difficult to communicate with, as the hydrophilic heads and the hydrophobic tails clashed in personality and seemed to only want to talk about water.
We lysosomes and peroxisomes came next in the hierarchy, simple chemical reaction and digestion chambers, the janitors of the cell. The only trait of interest which I can communicate about vesicles such as myself, is that, although we had varying functions, we mainly watched. We floated through the inner workings of the cell, unimportant, and watched everything important. I didn’t think about what I saw. The first parts of my life were spent absorbing information, but not processing it and not questioning it. There was no need to understand things, then.
Next came the vacuoles, who had little interest. They were vacuous, vague, empty. I often found myself floating near a vacuole, and made an effort to communicate, but they were dim, almost lifeless. They rarely communicated.
Last in ranking was the cytoplasm, for it was considered to be mere fluid, empty space, a blank canvas for the other organelles to create upon. But, somehow, -and perhaps it is due to my lowliness and simplicity in structure, for simple things relate to simple things- I felt a connection to the cytoplasm. I somehow gained comfort from the presence of the creature inside and outside of me, the being that was everywhere and all around, unnoticed and invisible, but saw everything, heard every signal of communication, knew everything.
The cytoplasm could not communicate, not with electric signals, but, in the strangest way, I could feel its presence and its emotions in its texture, and I felt, foolishly, that it was the wisest of us all. This, however, is unimportant. All this, all of us, are going to be gone, and for good reason. It is pointless to dwell on such temporary and meaningless structures.
Still, there was a hierarchy among us, but, when all organelles of a specific type are identical in personality, behavior, and role, how could there not be? And, of course, none of us questioned it, none of us questioned anything. It is just not present in the minds of simple organelles such as us to, when we are presented with something, ask ‘why?’ Even the mitochondria, with so much power and independence, never had the ability to think for themselves. It was not our place in the world to think, only to do. It was just not there inside of us. And yet, I am aware now, how to wonder. It is as marvelous as it is wrong, and I wonder how it is possible that I was not capable of it, and I ask what changed inside of me. But this is a question I can answer. I know what brought about this change.
It all started when our cell’s best friend, Whizzer, started acting out of line. Usually skin cells just do their job with us organelles, but Whizzer has been acting strangely these past few weeks. It’s nothing I’ve seen before, so I have no idea if Whizzer could be harmful to us or not, nevertheless, keeping an eye on him seems like the most secure way to keep our skin cells safe and keep our human safe. If not, I can’t imagine the horrible things that could happen to us if Whizzer actually ends up being a threat. Telling our cell wouldn’t be bad, right? Right? Of course it couldn’t hurt to tell!
It’s as if the universe is against me, because, when going out of my way to tell our nucleus about Whizzer and how he might become a threat, he tells me I’m being ridiculous! I’m just trying to keep us safe! It’s as if all he cares about is himself and his friends. If he actually did care about Whizzer, he’d report it to the higher-ups, but noooooo. If Whizzer actually does end up being harmful, I won’t get to be able to tell him “I told you so.” You know why? Because we’d all be dead! I love Whizzer as much as our cell loves him. Skin cells have to stick together and I get that, but we could all die, even worse, our human could die! Does he really think that calling me ridiculous over something as serious as this will make me drop the fact that Whizzer could probably kill us if he ends up being harmful? The answer is No!
Yup, called it. Whizzer turned cancerous. While cleaning up some dead waste, I overheard some other skin cells gossiping. I was only able to hear a little, but just enough to prove my point. I’ve been right this whole time. We could have prevented this a while ago if our cell didn’t call me ridiculous and actually reported Whizzer as a threat! Now look at what’s happening, Whizzer slowly but surely starting to spread around, and all the healthy cells we know and love turning cancerous along with him. How long until we turn?
As days, weeks, and months pass by, we slowly see more and more, cancerous cells spring up so much, we’ve barely seen any healthy cells. I’m starting to feel much worse and I’m not sure if that’s because of the fact that we’re probably turning cancerous or I’m just feeling anxious, maybe both at the same time, but that thought isn’t helping me to calm down at all! Oh gosh, this is the end, isn’t it? I’ve tried to be positive throughout this whole ordeal, thinking to myself that maybe they would have stopped, but because of my cell’s foolishness and because of my ability to do nothing more than hope and do no action to stop them from slowly killing all of us, I guess this is the end then, huh? I lived a good life, I guess, but is this goodbye? If we don’t live or turn to cancerous cells, we’ll be the luckiest cell alive.
Now that our cell and all of us turned cancerous, dead waste keeps piling up, way more than usual. I quit after it became too much to bear. All of the organelles also quit because they can’t bear all of the work either. It became too much for us, so we all shut down and quit doing our functions. Our cell doesn’t mind, though, since now, his main goal is killing our human. All of the organelles have been trying to slap him out of it and get him back to his senses, but it’s no use. No matter what we tried, his old self never came back. The old cell we once knew was now just a husk of what he used to be. He used to be lively and full of joy being a skin cell, but now, because of Whizzer, all he wants is to kill our human and make his whole body shut down, stop him from taking another breath, and watch him decay slowly. I sometimes look back and miss the old cell he used to be. Could this be how Whizzer’s organelles felt about him as well? All hope of getting better and having the old cell we once knew back is gone. What could save us from the suffering we’re facing?
A ray of hope shone down today, just when all of our hope was almost nonexistent, when we were all about to give up trying to smack the sense back into our cell, something revolutionary has hit, and might become the best way to save our human’s life. It has some consequences that we’re all scared about going through, but if it saves his life, then the sacrifice we’d have to make would be worth it. Our job is to keep our human healthy, and if having to sacrifice our life in place of his keeps him alive and healthy, then it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Even if I never get to see Whizzer or our cell ever again and even if I never get to do my job ever again, this would all hopefully be worth it, in the end. Is this really going to finally be the end of us? Will our human ever be healthy because of this? I might not be able to see the old Whizzer and the old Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476610 ever again, and things might never be the same, but I know, deep down, that this is the end, and I will finally be free from the pain and suffering that come from being a cancer cell. Now I can finally be free and finally be at peace, and this is, finally, goodbye. (The subject cell, “Keratinocyte Skin Cell 476610,” died as a result of chemotherapy treatment. We have yet to see whether or not the subject human, who has desired to remain anonymous, will survive his deadly skin cancer.)
You may ask what is the main, most important idea we are to gather from this overwhelmingly important document, the first message directly translated from an organelle, a firsthand look into a world so unimaginably different from our own. What is the meaning of this humble lysosome’s story from its own perspective? We, the first witnesses of this incredible information from such a simple, not to mention ridiculously small organism, have pondered over this question relentlessly. We have marvelled that the lowest of the low, the smallest and weakest and most insignificant, building blocks as small as the building blocks of a cell, can think, wonder, question, and communicate. We have determined, after many hours, days, and weeks of discussing and analyzing this information, what we believe that we as a human race must gain from this narrative: What we as a society consider to be the smallest, least important, or most simple, in any situation or hierarchy, the things we give no voice, may have wisdom in their simplicity which we cannot even consider. Something as small as a single cell, one out of approximately 37.2 trillion tiny building blocks that make up a single human, can cause something as large and destructive as cancer, can cause their human’s death. Not to mention that within a cell, a lysosome, a mere trash collector, can have whole stories and worlds and ideas and thoughts of its own locked somewhere under its double membrane, somewhere in the acidic fluid of its being. Sometimes, as the larger, more important, or more complex organisms spend all their energy attempting to solve or complete or understand something, sometimes, the smallest of the small, the weakest of the weak, have had the answers all along.