Decoding DNA

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Decoding DNAThis is a follow-up to an earlier post — about the binary nature of DNA, and how remarkably close it is to the logical and mathematical systems (languages) human beings have invented to interact with computers. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this odd coincidence is the fact that computer science advanced almost completely independently of discoveries in the field of genetics. This isn’t to say people haven’t seen the glaring similarities for years — and even succeeded at storing binary data as DNA. But to my knowledge, there has been no concerted, unified effort to think of DNA and the double helix as binary computer code (feel free to enlighten me if I am wrong). In other words, I’m not convinced this approach has been fully vetted when it comes to decoding DNA.

I will try to keep this as simple as possible. When we talk about encryption, we are actually (and more accurately) discussing cryptography and cryptology — which I will refer to only as cryptography, from here forward.

Cryptography makes extensive use of an operator called XOR – also known as exclusive disjunction. If you are familiar with truth tables, then you basically understand the way the XOR operator works.

Without getting too esoteric, the XOR operator essentially allows would-be hackers to decode encrypted data. This is something of an oversimplification but suffice it to say, if you go to the NSA and ask a cryptographer if he knows anything about the XOR operator, he will probably just smile; it’s like asking a mathematician if he knows what a divisor is.

Science has identified the entire human genome, and it is positively gargantuan. The medical community is making enormous strides in using genetics to treat difficult diseases, like cancers. What I would like to see, however — and what I have not heard much about — is bringing geneticists and cryptographers together in order to tackle the actual code behind DNA and genetics. I want to reiterate that I am not an expert in the field of genetics, so this is merely a thought experiment on my part — and I would once again welcome any enlightenment, corrections, or criticism I might receive.

From what I have learned, however, it is one thing to associate DNA strands with specific genes and/or traits. But it is quite another thing to understand the way the code works, in toto, so scientists can actually use it to write DNA sequences… much the same way a computer programmer writes an application.

I believe in coming years, we won’t be able to discuss genetics as distinct and unique from computer science. In fact, I think eventually the two sciences will merge — that is to say, I believe all computer “programs” will be genetic… just like human beings (and all life forms) already are. But rather than being a product of hundreds of millions of years of natural selection, future “programs” will be built in a matter of months, weeks, or even days.

In other words, there will be no distinction between life forms that have evolved over millions of years, and those that were “written” by humans. That might sound scary to many of you, but there is a fairly substantial scientific group that sees this as our inexorable future. I would suggest we embrace it, but the gesture would be moot. Welcome to transhumanism!

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