SEARCHING FOR THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
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Question from Chapter 8
Do the principles of generating and communicating known created codes apply to DNA code?
DNA Code Letters
The DNA code consists of four bases called - Adenine, Thymine Cytosine and Guanine, usually written A, T, C, and G. The chemistry of A, T, C and G are well known, but no known natural property of A, T, G, or C has been able to explain the coded information properties of DNA. Chemistry only explains how the bases are connected to the sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA strand, and how the two strands of DNA fit together, but the chemical properties of A, T, C and G do not explain the sequence of bases along one strand, i.e. why an A is next to a T or a G, and so on along the strand.
The coded information stored and transmitted by DNA is not due to the natural property of its parts A, T, C, or G. To date, no one has been able to find any reason why A, T, C, or G mean anything either singularly or in combination. Like any man-made code, the information in DNA turns out to be in the arrangement of the code letters, not in the natural properties of the letters. Also like man-made codes, the information in DNA far exceeds the information in the component parts. This can be expressed in a formula as:
IDNA Code >>>> IA, T, C, G
A Multi-Step Code
Remember the example of the multistep code making used of coded messages in English depended on the spy knowing Greek letters and having a manual containing pre-existing information in an organised structure. Like the original coded messages in English, DNA code is only useful when applied in an already existing system of information.
DNA information is in the sequence of bases, but the individual letters do not correspond to amino acids. There are only four DNA letters but there are twenty amino acids. There is another step needed to turn the base sequence into information that specifies an amino acid sequence to make a protein. Each amino acid is coded for as a group of three bases, e.g. ATC, GGA etc. It is not useful as single letters. It has to be read as triplets to make sense. Therefore, DNA code is like a multi-step code - more information has to be applied to it before it is useful.
In a living cell no part of DNA code functions independently. For information to be used it has to transferred to RNA and then used to make proteins. Therefore, the steps needed to start making the first living cell are:
1. Encode information on DNA
2. Translate information into RNA language
3. Read RNA letters in groups of three
4. Convert RNA triplets into amino acids
5. Link amino acids together to make proteins
This sequence can be summarised:
DNA ® Information copied ® RNA ® Information used ® Proteins
There is also another complication: proteins and RNA are used to regulate the use of DNA information, i.e. start and a stop the transcribing process.
DNA and Evolution
How did the information get onto DNA? Could it have been put there by the processes of evolution?
So far we have summarised General Evolution with the formulae:
Matter + Energy + Time NP® Life form 1
Then Life Form 1 + Matter + Energy + Time NP® L2 + L3 + L4 ...etc.
M + E + T NP® L2 + L3 + L4 ...etc.
Evolving New Life Forms
According to evolutionary theory, present day complex life forms, such as the Galapagos finches, are the result of a process where non-living matter became biological molecules which became cells, which evolved into simple animals, which became reptiles, then finally birds. At each transition, new structures were added, some were features were lost, and existing structures became more complex. Information was somehow added to the DNA code.
The transition from reptile to bird is a good example to consider just how much Information had to change. In a reptile lung, air is drawn straight into the lung then forced out the same way. Birds have a more complicated breathing system where air is drawn through the lung, then passed through a system of air sacs before being exhaled. The air passes only one way through the lung which enables more efficient gas exchange than occurs in reptiles. Birds need huge amounts of oxygen to fly. In order for a reptile lung to evolve into a bird lung, a large amount of DNA information for a new lung system must be added, and some removed.
Somewhere further back in the evolutionary process the information for lungs was added to life forms which did not have lungs. The evolutionary origin and development of lungs could be summarised:
No cell NP® cell (no lung) NP® Reptile with lung NP® Bird with different lung
In terms of DNA, this evolutionary sequence has been:
No DNA NP® DNA (no lung) NP® DNA (reptile lung) NP® DNA (bird lung)
In terms of Information, evolution has proceeded from:
No Information NP ® Information NP ® New Information
If birds evolved by evolutionary processes, then information had to placed on the first DNA to evolve by natural processes, then at each step, the natural properties of the system have enabled information that did not previously exist to be encoded and added to the DNA code. Where would that information come from, and how would it become encoded in DNA?
Is there any way the information needed to make the first living cell could organise itself onto DNA, and then reorganise itself to make new and different life forms?
We need to look at more properties of codes. We will do this in the next section.
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