Friday, August 10, 2007

Science for the Confused - an occasional series

No. 6: Cracked record (reprise of no. 5)

I think I've said this before, but it's been on my mind again. The complexity of DNA is enough to account for the variations between individuals, but not enough to specify the pattern for the organism. Therefore DNA is probably only a series of variations to apply, but to what, we don't know. I have said it before, I remember now. It's like the instructions to a tailor: I want a blue suit, with a velvet collar and this and that measurement. It does not tell the tailor how to make a suit. And who is the tailor? What causes a plate of chemicals to turn into a human being? Or a banana? All these things with DNA, doesn't it mean that DNA is really synonymous with life? But there are more lines in a not-particularly-complicated computer program than there are in the human genome. So where is the real pattern for life? We can put a pile of amino acids in a saucer but they won't get up and write À la recherche du temps perdu.

Estimates vary from 25,000 to 80,000 effective genes in the human genome, and currently thought to be at the lower end of that range (ref: here). There are more parts in the body than there are elements in the genome! Imagine what it would need to program any one part of the body, never mind the brain, for example. You couldn't program even a wonky robot with that number of instructions, let alone a system to build a wonky robot (which, some might jokingly argue, is what we have).

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Prof. Kronk

Confused yet? You will be, here.

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