This week I have had to modify part of the molecular biology lecture notes for my young biologists. We have known for a while that only 2 percent of our DNA provides the information to synthesise all the proteins which create, maintain and run our bodies. This mere 2 percent is made up from the triplet-code sequences familiarly called genes... and we have about 20,000 of them.
The rest of our DNA clearly contained codes to start and stop gene activity but was regarded as mostly biologically inactive and colloquially called ‘junk’ DNA. Anyway, to cut a long story short the results of a global project has in turn junked that idea. It turns out that in addition to the 20,000 gene codes we also have 4 million switches - sections of DNA code that turn stuff on and off.
Hang on a minute, 4 million switches! Why do we need so many? As yet the molecular biologists don’t know but maybe geeks do; switches ring a bell?
You mean 4 million binary states.... equivalent to about half a meg of computer byte code? Crikey what does this mean?
The next Watson and Crick is out there, Raspberry Pi in one hand, he or she is just waiting to crack the problem. The problem of how the genetic program is run, how we develop and how we switch genes on and off in response to the environment
it is not understood, but with 4 million bits on hand it’s not a stretch to imagine a molecular machine code capable of articulating such a program.
So if indeed we may have a life-app running. The questions are:
a) What is able to read the switch state?
b) What is the machine that can process this code?
The answer will surely lay in a large protein complex (it always is), hitherto whose significance has been unrecognised. There are prizes for those who find it and for those who can figure out its machine code. Think of it as biology’s Higg’s particle.
Computer scientists are the obvious ones to crack this meta-code.. so get cracking kids, fire up the Pi... but when you collect your Nobel Prize, spare a thought for the day you read this post.
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