DNA PART ONE

 

 

 

THE MARVEL OF DNA (PART ONE)

 

 

 

 

Despite the enormous advances it has made in the past half-century, biological science remains in a mode of basic exploration. The knowledge that it has acquired regarding the amazing intricacy of life has raised as many questions as it has answered. Yet it has come to appreciate the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule as possessing almost the entire essence of all life, both plant and animal.

 

The story of our having come to an understanding of its structure and function is of itself a real scientific thriller. Only recently has man acquired an understanding of the advantages of a generalized multipurpose machine, the computer, whose functional qualities are defined not by its physical characteristics, its hardware, but rather by the instructions that are applied to it in software code. This code may assume a number of different possible forms. There is the 8-bit ASCII code (an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange), for example, wherein each group of 8-bit binary characters represents an alphanumeric symbol, such as the letter ‘G’ or the numeral ‘5’. At the lowest level, however, the data is encoded in machine language compatible with the computer hardware, wherein groups of binary characters (‘0’ or ‘1’) represents specific instructions, like telling the computer memory to accept data immediately following the code and store it in a particular location. The code itself went through several transitions as computer technology advanced. It started out as embodied in a sequence of punched data cards, then transitioned to tape, and after that was stored on laser-readable discs. Even now it still can’t compare with DNA. In its most straightforward functional context, the DNA molecule represents the purest, most compact and efficient structural embodiment imaginable of a chemically-implemented storage medium for software code. It expresses rather loudly the notion of anticipation, the purposeful creation of exquisitely complex order out of chaos. Its very existence inspires the awe of someone monitoring a SETI screen, like Jodie Foster in the movie “Contact”, and suddenly viewing an intelligent signal from outer space.

 

DNA has a backbone structure consisting of alternate sugar and phosphate molecules interconnected to form a chain of arbitrary length. The size of this chain for most animals is quite huge. Functionally it is similar to the magnetic tape medium for the storage of computer software. Embedded within two such chains is the actual software, in which each sugar-phosphate pair forms a nest for any one of four different hydrocarbon molecules from the following repertoire: adenine (labeled ‘A’), guanine (‘G’), cytosine (‘C’) and thymine (‘T’). An essential feature of these four chemicals is that they are always coded in pairs: A to T and C to G. On the surface, these pairs seem to represent just two possibilities, but in fact the capability for their physical reversal within the sugar-phosphate matrix adds another two possibilities. The four possibilities are: A-T, T-A, C-G, and G-C. An interesting facet is that A is of a different size than T, and C is of a different size than G, whereas the two pairs are virtually identical in size, so that when one end of a pair nests on one sugar-phosphate chain and the other nests into the other sugar-phosphate chain, there is no distortion of the two-chain system due to size differences. Another interesting feature of the matrix is that the system has no preferential affinity for any one pair over another and no pair has an affinity for any other pair, rendering the system completely contingent, meaning that there is no bonding preference for any particular code pattern, a necessary feature of any true software encoding medium. Another key feature of the system is that it expresses chirality, which means that while there are two equally-probable directions in which the sugar and phosphate molecules bond together, the resulting nucleotides may only be of the right-handed form. This requirement alone virtually eliminates the possibility that the first DNA string was formed by chance. The dual-nucleotide chain, together with the specific arrangement of embedded pairs within it, form what can only be characterized as a highly-organized structure of software code. But it does more than make a machine perform a function, because first it contains the instructions to build the machine itself. As with any useful software code, theoretically one could arrange the embedded pairs to form an ASCII code, which would then be able to say anything in the English language through this DNA string, including a complete work of Shakespeare or, better yet, the Bible. The major difference between this chemical ASCII code and its binary equivalent would be the greater transmission efficiency of the DNA over the binary code. In fact, a revised equivalent ASCII code could be formed out of just four characters instead of eight.

 

We haven’t yet decoded a single DNA string. We haven’t even come close. What we have decoded is those portions of DNA that are gene-specific for humans, or the human genome, which represent but a tiny fraction, about 5 percent, of the entire string. Genes are sections of DNA code, some of which specify, direct and regulate the manufacture of proteins. Even our current understanding of that portion of the overall decoding task is a major accomplishment, because the process by which a cell replicates a gene-specific portion in DNA into an RNA copy (RNA stands for ribonucleic acid), and then ‘reads’ the RNA code into the process that assembles the corresponding amino acids into another sequence representing a specific protein, is so startlingly high-tech that if one can instantly recognize a designer behind an intricate wristwatch or an automobile, the designer recognition for the process of protein manufacture is so over-the-top that only a person blinded by a God-denying agenda can possibly fail to perceive it.

 

As added complicating factors, the amino acids, which also express chirality in their natural states, must all be of the left-handed variety, and only twenty out of a possible eighty amino acids are useful components of proteins.

 

In the early days of developing an understanding of the protein manufacture process, some of the scientists involved were rather arrogant about the role of those portions of DNA that weren’t specifically associated with the manufacture of proteins. Being of the evolutionary persuasion for the most part (for many of them, their grant money and even their jobs depended on their loyalty to evolution), they considered the portions of DNA for which they could find no specific use to be “junk DNA, DNA that represented earlier stages of evolution and was no longer useful to and was ignored by the living system. Those who possessed this attitude were pruned back a bit by subsequent discoveries of uses that included error-correcting codes like checksum values, and sequence-control commands like punctuation marks. Further developments in the decoding of DNA await minds of sufficient genius to see more of the mechanisms in certain sections of DNA that God may have had specific uses for, like the processes associated with embryology and growth. We’ve often wondered whether God has put His own verbal imprint in a secluded section of code that some arrogant scientist has relegated to “junk DNA”. A delightful example might be a segment in direct, in-your-face ASCII code that says “In the beginning was the Word, and. . .”

 

The discovery of what DNA is and does gave us an understanding of life that simply wasn’t accessible to Sir Charles Darwin or his contemporaries. Actually, this insight into DNA has only been available to us for a few short decades, and it changes everything, particularly as we can only now view its implications in the context of some other very recent technological developments, including the structure of the computer and the development of information science, the understanding of which occurred simultaneously with the acquisition of our understanding of DNA.

 

We have found that the characteristics and functions of DNA closely match those of computer software. A string of DNA is nothing more nor less than software code. If we had the ability to create our own string of DNA and manipulate the coding pairs to insert them in the sugar-phosphate matrix in the sequence that we ourselves specified, we could create an ASCII-encoded version of any book we wished to. If we could then develop a machine that could accept this chemical information and read its contents, we could insert our encoded string of DNA and the machine would then print the book we had chemically encoded, or, better yet, display it on a screen like a Kindle reader. As an information storage medium, our encoded strand of DNA would be the most compact device available.

 

[to be continued]

 

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