The process of conversion of biological information from a 1 to a 2 to a 3 and to a 4 dimensional state is very interesting. This process begins with DNA. DNA is the fundamental molecule of life. It is composed of the nitrogenous bases adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). These bases form long polypeptide chains held together by hydrogen bonds. The DNA molecule itself is 3-dimensional and comes in the shape of a double helix, but, the genetic information is one dimensional because it is encoded as a specific sequence of letters representing bases along the length of the molecule. Because of this property of DNA, it can be easily stored in computer memory as a DNA molecule. When combining this data with DNA sequencers, computers, and DNA synthesizers, it is possible to interpret, store replicate, and transmit genetic information electronically form one place to another anywhere. This information can then be used to synthesize a duplicate of the originally sequenced DNA molecule.
Inside the DNA are genes or regions of the genetic code that encodes for proteins. The limited number of bases in the genetic code does not limit the kinds of proteins and organisms genetic information can specify.
Genes are assembled into chromosomes, organelles that package and manage the storage, duplication, and expression of DNA. Humans have 24 kinds of chromosomes with 3,000,000,000 base pairs and about 20,000 to 30,000 genes.
Proteins are created through a process called translation and are composed of hundreds to thousands of amino acids of a set of 20 different kinds of amino acids. These proteins fold to form a 3 dimensional structure and this 3 dimensional structure forms 4-dimensional cells and biological systems such as the brain.
This network of biological information is 4-dimensional because it always changing over the 3 dimensions of space and one dimension of time. From of the biological network, the brain, properties such as memory, consciousness, and the ability to learn arise.
The molecule that is considered to be the go-between for proteins and DNA is RNA. RNA has the ability to store, replicate, mutate, and express genetic information and, like proteins, can fold into 3 dimensions and produce molecules that are able to animate the chemistry of life. However, unlike DNA, it is an unstable molecule. Instead it acts as an interagent between DNA and protein. DNA is transcribed (conversion of DNA-encoded information into its RNA-encoded into RNA encoded equivalent) and RNA is translated (process in which RNA direct the synthesis of polypeptides from amino acids according to the genetic code) into protein in this molecular specialization process. This process is so successful that all living organisms today utilize it.
The complete set of chromosomes in each cell of an organism is known as its genome. The first organisms with genomes to arise were Prokaryotic (don’t have a nucleus) cells which are said to have appeared around 3.7 billion years ago. Eukaryotic (have a nucleus) cells appeared around 2 billion years ago and multicellular eukaryotic organisms appeared around 600-700 billion years ago. At around 570 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion (a time period of 20-50 million years), mulitcellular organisms an unbelievable diversity of multicellular organisms was to be seen.
Researchers have been able to complete a structural analysis of the entire genome of many organisms and are working on the human genome in a project known as The Human Genome Project. They have discovered how to turn on a gene called Pax6 which can cause the fruit fly to have numerous tiny human-like eyes and, if there is something wrong with the Pax6 gene in humans and mice, eyes will not develop. I wonder if this is what happened with the great artist, Esref Armagen who was born without eyes, but can still create magnificent paintings:
“Extraordinary people, The artist with no eyes, Esref Armagan”
Scientists have been using excellent genomic tools such as the DNA chip to study each of the human genes and proteins. This knowledge will have an incredible impact on our understanding of how to treat cancer and some infectious diseases. However, this knowledge cannot reveal how a human is created. Humans are more than just a set of genes, proteins and neural connections. Personality characteristics, learning, and memory arise from interactions and the environment. A living thing takes in non-living material and information from the environment and uses it. For example, using a microarray analysis of patients’ cancer tumors can be used to accurately predict whether a certain drug will be able to effectively eliminate certain kinds of cancer making it a powerful tool that can be used for medicine. Molecular studies of DNA can also give genetic counselors more information about who is predisposed to certain illnesses such as sickle-cell anemia or caner, but we cannot predict with 100 percent accuracy how interactions with the environment will influence the development of cancer or other illnesses. Consequently, many social issues have arisen because of genomics.
Social issues that have been raised because of the study of genomics include possible discrimination such as denying a person a job or medical insurance because of a diagnosed tendency to develop a certain illness, the misinterpretation of genetic information, issues related to regulation and control of genetic information, the development of technology that can alter or add genes currently in our germ line (reproductive cell precursors) of human embryos, and finally many question whether or not we should develop the power to alter our own genome. Because we are already well on our way to developing technologies that could be used for such purposes especially when it comes to identifying genes that predispose people to many types of disease (hundreds will be identified over the next 25 years), I think that it is important for young people to be educated on the moral and ethical challenges that they will face regarding genetics in the next generation. They especially need to be educated on how evolution as it relates to DNA in the medical field occurs.