Components of DNA

How DNA Works

I'm going to explain very briefly how DNA works. DNA is a molecule; it's a double helix. When it divides to multiply it separates in half, and a complementary chemical falls into place at every station and creates a new replica of itself.

The bridge between the edges of the helix is made of a combination of four chemicals, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine. Which I will abbreviate as A, T, C and G. Those are the letters of the DNA alphabet. A, C, T, and G encode all information necessary for life. In the simplest tiny microorganisms it takes 500,000 letters to represent a living organism. It takes five hundred thousand A's, or C's, or T's, or G's.

In a human it takes three billion (3,000,000,000) of those letters to represents a copy of you, and there is one of those three billion letter messages inside every cell in your body. (By the way modern technology, to date, has not produced an information storage mechanism that is more dense than DNA.) All the information in your hard drive is a lot bulkier than the information in your cells.

So DNA is not just a molecule, DNA is a language. It is actually very comparable to English and human languages in the way that it is structured. Here is a little chart and it shows the comparison between human languages and DNA. The nucleotide is the A, T, C, G.

So DNA is an encoding, decoding mechanism that stores and transmits the message of the living organism. Biologists have actually been using linguistic analysis to decode the human genome. Tools that we must use to analyze languages are continually being used to figure out what all of those genes actually mean.

So if you read some article in the newspaper it says we found a gene that causes Spina Bifida or something like that, some kind of linguistic analysis was used to help figure that out.

So what makes a language?

Well the first thing about a language, any language, is it symbolically represents something other than itself. All of you have papers on the tables here, and the papers have paper and they have ink. But the message on the flier there on the table has nothing to do with paper or ink for the most part. Paper and ink is just the medium that carries it.

To have a language, to have information, you have to have a transmitter and a receiver. Somebody has to talk and somebody has to listen. And then it has these four characteristics; it has an alphabet, it has grammar, it has meaning, and it has intent.

Every language has those four things. DNA has them; all the stuff going on inside your computer has them. If dogs are barking and yelping, the communication has all of these four things. It doesn't matter if it's mating calls if it's pheromones between insects.

All Languages and Codes Have Four Components

Regardless of what kind of communication we are talking about those four things are present in that communication. Alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. And nearly all languages have error correction or redundancy.

English is about 50% redundant, which means if you're talking on your cell phone and its cutting in and out and in and out, if you can hear every word you can still pretty much figure out what's being said. If you lose more than that you really can't.

Where does redundancy come from? If you take a word out, you can fill it in from the context. Your mind can fill in the difference. Most of you never thought of this, but in when you're on the internet or getting and receiving emails there's a whole collection of mechanisms that are put in the communication back and forth to ensure that errors are corrected before they get to you. This is common to almost all languages.

Is DNA a pattern? Or is it a language?

DNA is an encoding and decoding system. DNA molecule represents more than itself; it represents an entire living organism. It doesn't just represent Adenine. It represents you or it represents a rabbit or a squirrel or a snake.

It has alphabet and syntax and semantics and pragmatics, or to use less technical terms alphabet, grammar, meaning and intent. It can be copied and even stored in other media with no loss of information.

I used to work for a company that made DNA sequencers. Their machines would go through and figure out what all the letters were in a strand of DNA. You could store that on a computer disk, and somebody in the lab could take the right chemicals and they could put those back and they could end up with a clone of the organism. Because the information in DNA is information is something distinct and separate from whatever it is stored in.

DNA Language

Human Language











So which is DNA more like?

Is DNA more like stalactites and stalagmites and tornadoes and hurricanes and snowflakes and fractals? Or is DNA more like music, maps, computer programs and Chinese?

It's definitely in the second category. Absolutely there is no question about it. So what we have here is that between the world of chaos and patterns and the world of designs and information there is a huge chasm. A huge chasm. The pattern of DNA is not like a language. It is a language. By any formal definition of language it is a language.

Chaos, fractals and natural processes do not produce languages or codes.

Now usually if people try to disagree with this, this is where they try to disagree. I had a guy say “No, DNA isn't a language or a code, it's just a molecule.” So I looked up Watson and Crick who discovered DNA, they got the Nobel Prize for it. I surfed the internet and the first thing I found was James Watson's Nobel prize acceptance speech. And the very first paragraph of his speech talks about the genetic code. Code, language, same thing.

(This is a brief summary of a much longer explanation of chance, information and DNA. The entire article is here. We would recommend that you read that entire article).

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