Wednesday 26 August 2015

The scientific significance of information reaches the pages of the Guardian

Paul Davies writing in the Guardian today:
A fundamental reason why the transition from chemistry to biology is baffling is that chemistry is cast in the language of molecular shapes, reaction rates and energy barriers. Biologists use terms such as signals, codes, transcription and translation: the language of information. To a chemist, DNA is a molecule with a specific structure; to a biologist it is a coded database of instructions. To use computer jargon, chemistry tells us about the hardware of life, but biology also needs software.

Although the central role that information plays in life has been appreciated at least since Crick and James Watson elucidated the structure of DNA, little attention has been given to life as an information-processing system.


Understanding the rules of information management, including any recurring themes or motifs, could presage the next great leap forward in biology.


A soup of chemicals may spontaneously form a reaction network, but what does it take for such a molecular muddle to begin coherently organising information flow and storage? Rather than looking to biology or chemistry, we can perhaps dream that advances in the mathematics of information theory hold the key.

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