Saturday, October 27, 2007

Those 'useless' strands of DNA

DNA thoughts....

i'm not a physicist, and i'm certanly no biologist. way to track civilizations progress in any domain is the resolution with which we can measure in that domain and how it increases. in physics, everything was composed of the aristotelian elementals of air, water, fire, and dirt, then we found the molecules, then the atoms via cloud chamber trails. now, we're trying to figure out a recipe for atoms that allows us to create the illusion of a deeper understanding of the world around us from ever smaller particles, strings, and other random theories.

so, moving to how this relates to DNA, we've observed its useful to speculate about DNA as a composition of a 4 state encoding labelled A, T, G, and C. combinations of a set of these, many millions of components long, makes a DNA strand. we've decoded some of these strands, call them genomes (the easy part of deconstruction), and now are working to understand how to interpret this mass of information.

something funny scientists do...when scientists couldn't figure out how light travels through empty space, speculated it must be travelling through a medium called 'ether'. later they figured out what it was, but that didn't change a few generations of textbooks. with increasing resolution of scientific devices we found out what that 'ether' was. in space, we can't figure out where all the mass is coming from, so we call the stuff 'dark matter'. 'dark matter' is a placeholder for 'stuff we don't know about, but stay tuned...'.

Some scientists now claim that there is lots of junk in our DNA strands. This statement is irresponsible. it creates the illusion this is proven, and is the opposite of the application of the scientific method. quite the opposite: we don't KNOW what its used for. think about this from a programmer's perspective, and a few heuristics: 20% of a codebase is executed 80% of the time. meaning 80% of the code a programmer writes is rarely/never executed. this hardly makes it useless or junk. quite the opposite, this is the code that handles the corner cases that might cause a crash or handle a defect or insufficient data returned from some other component of a complicated set of components working together.

its there for robustness. i am scary suspicious that these 'useless' code strands are likely to contain some important code. maybe some components are currently dormant, maybe some really is just extra storage. maybe there are things happening during recombination beyond the resoultion of current devices with these subsystems? maybe they are just components that are only triggered when other components are triggered, like a chain reaction that lights up those code segments. the parallels between a programmer's logic and the program that resides in your DNA are uncanny.

No comments: