A Wonderful Messenger: Nitric Oxide
What do air pollution, a Nobel Prize and a hormone have in common? The answer is "nitric oxide." In chemistry textbooks, nitric oxide is defined as a colorless, poisonous gas that comes into being by the oxygenation of nitrogen. It is a "simple" molecule shown by the chemical formula, "NO" (it is a molecule made up of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom). Both nitrogen and oxygen are familiar elements. One of the first things we learn in high school is that the air we breathe is composed of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen.
When we say nitric oxide is "simple," we only refer to the simplicity of its chemical composition. With regard to its importance to human life, intense research over the past twenty years has shown that this molecule performs a basic function in communication among cells. The result of scientific work in this field has revealed that nitric oxide is a hormone produced naturally in the human body. It is a chemical messenger that plays a strategic role in the regulation of the vital functioning of the nervous system, circulatory system, immune system, respiratory system and reproductive system.
Poisonous nitric oxide is a gas that causes air pollution and acid rain, destroys the ozone layer and the ecological environment. This gas is produced by the burning of nitrogen and is found in great quantities in car exhaust. Until recently, only this aspect of NO was known. It was believed that, apart from its threat to human health, it had no function. Even the discovery by research that the NO was a hormone was disregarded in scientific circles. Generally, the first reaction to this discovery was disbelief.
But, within a short time, the results of research have awakened great interest in the scientific community; as evidence of this, the December 1992 issue of the well known scientific periodical Science called nitric oxide the "molecule of the year."74
With increased work in this field of scientific research, nitric oxide has gained great recognition; it has become known as the "magic gas," the "wonderful molecule" and the "secret messenger."
Robert Furchgott, Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad, who demonstrated the role of nitric oxide in the process of cellular communication, received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine. In the Nobel Foundation press release, it was noted that the prize was awarded to these professors for discoveries made relative to the NO messenger molecule, and it was pointed out that this discovery had elicited an avalanche of research activities in many different laboratories around the world.75Special research in the field of cellular communication has brought several other awards to the same researchers from the Nobel foundation.
In fact, in the last ten years, there has been an explosion in the amount of research done on NO; foundations have been established in the name of Nitric Oxide; periodicals have been published; according to the Nitric Oxide Society records, there are more than 32,000 scientific papers dealing with this remarkable molecule.76
Dr. Salvador Monsada, known for his work on nitric oxide, said that NO has changed the generally accepted thinking about cell-to-cell interaction, and that it has turned upside down some ideas about this matter.77Dr. John Cooke, of Stanford University, has characterized this research as "a great discovery" that is going to have "tremendous ramifications in American medicine—in medicine throughout the world."78
Of course, the basic point is how these developments have squeezed evolutionists into a corner. As in every scientific advance, new discoveries concerning nitric oxide have created a nightmare for evolutionists because there is no way that the wonderful operations in the human body caused by this molecule, 0.0000000001 meter (one billionth of a meter) in size could be explained in terms of chance. Nitric oxide is one of the numberless signs of God's perfect creation.
Evolutionist circles are relentlessly determined to deny God and blind to every marvelous proof of creation from atoms to galaxies. The attitude of their print media towards NO is that these articles, written with a claim to being scientific, praise nitric oxide immensely and present it like a hero or a superman. Because evolutionists deny the Creator of nitric oxide, they almost divinize this molecule and speak as if it performed all its marvelous operations by its own will and intelligence.
Evolutionists fall into their own trap because, this distorted point of view is no different from divinizing a bee because it gives honey, a tree because it gives fruit, or the sun because it gives light to the world. The same way of thinking would lead one to praise a beautiful painting without mentioning the painter or giving him praise. Every person must choose one of the two roads: either he will believe in God as it says in the Qur'an "That is God, your Lord. There is no god but Him, the Creator of everything…" (Qur'an, 6: 102) or he will divinize atoms, molecules, cells and a countless number of animate and inanimate things.
The nitric oxide messenger molecule is only one of the countless blessings that the Almighty God of eternal mercy has created and given to our service. In this century in which we live, it is one of the many wonders of creation that has come to light in the micro-universe. Throughout the section, you will read about the expert design of this molecule that performs its operations on our behalf in a significant number of the 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) cells in our bodies.
Design in Our Blood Vessels
Let us begin our investigation of nitric oxide where it was first discovered—the blood vessels. The blood vessels, together with the heart and the blood, form the circulatory system. Our blood vessels are like an immense highway system that goes to every part of our bodies. Its total length is more than 100,000 kilometers. A simple calculation helps us to better understand the importance of this number: if all the arteries, veins, and capillaries in the human body were placed end to end, they could stretch around the earth nearly two and a half times.79
And the blood vessel system in our bodies is incomparably more complex than the highway system in a developed country such as America. Highways are built with a particular width and, according to the density of traffic at different times of day, the number of lanes does not increase or decrease. However, the inner diameter of our blood vessels is not fixed; they narrow and dilate according to our activities and thus play an important role in the adjustment of blood pressure. So, thanks to this wonderful system, the changing needs in different areas of our bodies are met automatically. It is because of this flawless system that the blood vessels dilate to respond to an increased need for blood, and constrict after we receive a wound to reduce bleeding.
How do the blood vessels know when to dilate and when to constrict? The answer to this question is very important for human life. It is clear that a slight error that may happen at any point in the 100,000-kilometer long network of blood vessels will ineluctably have negative consequences.
Until ten years ago, scientists suspected that some very complex operations occurred in the blood vessels, but they were unable to answer the questions posed above. Research has revealed the existence of a chemical messenger—the nitric oxide molecule. It is this molecule that gives instructions for the blood vessels to dilate.
Now, let us examine more closely the wonderful installations deep in our blood vessels that produce nitric oxide.
With an electron microscope, the blood vessels appear to be huge in reverse proportion to their smallness. For example, ten capillary vessels arranged side by side are only the size of a human hair. The inner walls of these tiny blood vessels are covered with a tissue that is made up of the smooth muscle cells; the dilation and contraction of the blood vessels happens as a result of the movement of this tissue. The muscle cells do not make direct contact with the blood because a membranous layer exists between the blood and the muscle cells—the endothelium.
By aligning themselves side by side like the links of a chain, endothelium cells form the endothelial layer. Until the 1980's, it was believed that these cells had no function worthy of attention other than facilitating blood flow in the vessels. We now understand that one of the many responsibilities of the endothelium cells is the production of the nitric oxide messenger.
The endothelium cells are factories that produce nitric oxide molecules. These factories in the blood vessels are just one millionth of a meter in size. The chemical products of this microscopic factory, nitric oxide messenger molecules, are also just one millionth of a meter in size. To help us imagine this measurement, the magnification required to see a NO molecule as grape-sized with the naked eye would magnify a tennis ball to the same size as the world.80
The Short Life Story of the Messenger NO
Every nitric oxide molecule lasts about 10 seconds. It is designed to communicate its message within this short time to the relevant recipients and do this perfectly without fail. The messenger NO molecules secreted by the endothelium cells are dispersed with great speed in every direction. Those which are directed towards the smooth muscle cells enter the membrane of these cells. The smooth muscle cell membrane acts as a selector giving entry to the NO it recognizes. Without wasting any time, the NO molecule that enters the smooth muscle cells finds a special enzyme called GC and communicates its vitally important message. As a result, a series of complex chemical reactions occur within the cell.
What we have called a messenger is a molecule, 0.000000001 meter in size, containing only two atoms. These tiny molecules act as mail deliverers finding the GC enzyme that is the recipient of the message they carry. There are thousands of different enzymes performing different functions inside cells. Despite this, the message is delivered every time to the right address, that is, to the correct enzyme. Moreover, messenger molecules have a very limited life span, but they never make a mistake in timing. The molecules that carry the messages do not have a compass or similar device to show them the direction, but they never lose their way.
The speed with which the nitric oxide molecule performs its function can be compared to modern communication by e-mail. NO acts just like an electronic postal system, sending many messages at high speed to their destinations.
When GC enzyme in the smooth muscle cells receives the message brought by NO, it begins its activity. The duty of this worker enzyme is to turn the GTP, the energy-carrying molecules, into cGMP. The many reactions that occur between these stages are still unknown.
To put it in most simplest terms, at the end of the activity of the enzymes, the concentration of calcium in the muscle cell diminishes, causing a separation in the fibers and the relaxing of the muscle cells. As a result of this, the vessels dilate. In short, the message carried by the nitric oxide molecule has a vital importance in the adjustment of the pressure in the vessels, and what is explained here is only one of the millions of complex communication operations that go on every moment in our bodies.
How is it that NO molecules that have no intelligence or consciousness know the perfect systems that world-renowned professors can still not fathom? And how is it that they know, to the last second, when they must begin their activity and when they must end it? How is it that, as soon as it is produced, as if it had received a command from somewhere, it is able to deliver high-speed messages to the right address, exactly on time and without fail?
NO cannot perform these wonderful operations by itself. This molecule, like millions of other molecules in nature, is the work of a flawless creation, and it is a demonstration of God's limitless power and knowledge.
The Messenger in Sperm
Another very important function performed on our behalf by this molecule occurs in the first moment of our lives. First, we must notice when we say "the first moment of our lives," we do not mean the moment we were born. The first moment of our lives is the first moment of the one cell that formed us, when the sperm united with the egg.
When the sperm and the egg meet, a number of incredibly complex chemical operations begin, and as a result, an embryo is formed. But, among the many details that are still unknown, there is an important point that can be summarized in the words of Professor David Epel who said, "Since the turn of the century, people have wondered exactly how sperm-egg contact initiates development."81
The research carried out to find the answer to this question has shown that the messenger carried by NO initiates the wonderful process in the mother's womb. Inside the sperm there is an enzyme called Nitric Oxide Synthase (NOS). This enzyme begins to produce NO a few seconds before fertilization with perfect timing. When union occurs, the nitric oxide molecules in the sperm are dispersed within the egg; thirty seconds later, the calcium in the egg is activated and, the multiplication mechanism in the first cell goes into operation. The wonderful organization within this first cell is not yet fully understood. It is interesting for us to notice that, if there were an insufficiency in the nitric oxide molecule, communication between the sperm and the egg would not be established. Science came to understand this fact only in the year 2000; this shows us again that nitric oxide was created by God and appointed by Him to perform its functions.
Face to Face With Bacteria and Viruses
Earlier we mentioned that, although nitric oxide carries vital messages, it is also a poisonous molecule. So, the role of NO in the immune system is related to its poisonous qualities. This molecule is secreted by macrophages, which are important in the body's immune system. Recall that macrophages are microorganisms 0.01 of a millimeter in size. By a process called phagocytosis, they remove (swallow) bacteria and molecules, which are dangerous for our bodies. When a macrophage meets germs or bacteria that cause sickness, it surrounds them; afterwards, the bacteria that are embraced on every side by the macrophages are subjected to a bombardment of nitric oxide. In this way, nitric oxide molecules start a reaction to destroy the bacteria. Certainly, the cooperation between nitric oxide and macrophages is one of the countless proofs of the harmonious creation.
The NO molecules have another interesting role in the immune system. Research has shown that NO renders the "protease" enzyme found in some viruses ineffective. This enzyme breaks down big proteins into small parts that are used in the production of new viruses. NO puts this enzyme out of operation, preventing the virus from multiplying.
Tiny molecules find other molecules in a body that they have never before encountered and know very well how to neutralize their effects. In this way, people can be rescued from great dangers that they were not even aware of. It is very clear that all this order and connection among molecules cannot be the result of chance. God, the Lord of the universe, has given the NO molecules their function and created them with their special qualities.
Research in this field continues, and it is thought that, in the near future, scientists will be able to use nitric oxide in the fight against cancer. Each new bit of information that comes to light will show once again that this molecule is a product of extraordinary design.
Every day, the nitric oxide molecule is subject of new research, and the results of this research amaze even scientists. What is known at this point is that this messenger molecule is produced in various cells throughout our whole body, and that it has important functions in many bodily operations. In order to understand how utterly astonishing the activities of this molecule are, put yourself for a moment in the place of NO and imagine that you are undertaking its duties.
No matter how much of an expert you are, you must confess that you would not be able to do what this molecule does, even with the help of the most advanced computers and laboratories.
Certainly, the nitric oxide messenger molecule has been created by God Who has "created everything and determined it most exactly…" (Qur'an, 25: 2) Although this molecule has no sense organs, intelligence, consciousness, education or technical training, the fact that it can regulate the operations of cells, make and carry out on its own initiative delicate and necessary decisions relative to the human body, comes from God's superior and incomparable design.
All this information has been obtained during the last decade of the twentieth century as a result of intense research by scientists who are considered authorities in this field. Certainly, all the things unknown about NO cannot be brought to light just by the work of individual researchers; there are other factors that must be considered. States and international foundations have spent enormous amounts of money on scientific work in this field and have established laboratories with tools that are the product of the latest technology.
Certainly, the fact that the wonders of creation contained in this messenger molecule have been discovered only after so much work and effort is another demonstration of the superior knowledge of God.