The Cook Book of Life

Understanding the Code of Life (Part 2: Information)

To understand DNA consider the following problem. You have in front of you flour, yeast, honey, eggs, salt and some hot water. Now, your job is to turn those ingredients into a loaf of bread. Do you know what to do?

For most of us, the answer is no. We simply lack the know-how to turn these ingredients into an edible, tasty loaf of bread. And that is where one of the most popular books ever created comes into play - the cookbook.

The cookbook solves this problem by providing us with the specific, detailed, step-by-step instructions we need to transform common, everyday items into side-dishes and soups, cookies and cakes.

Cooking Up Proteins

Now, as strange as it may sound, it may be helpful to think of proteins as different types of foods and amino acids as the ingredients used to make those foods. Some proteins are breads and others are cookies. Some are salads and others are meat. They can be baked, stir fried, grilled or steamed.

The question is how do you make them? What "ingredients" do you need and how do you proceed?

When baking bread it makes a big difference whether you use yeast or yogurt or whether you let your dough raise before you add the yeast or afterwards. Similarly, when making proteins it makes a big difference which amino acids you use and in which order you use them.

As such, the cell needs a cookbook all of its own so that it can add the right 'ingredients' in the right way at the right time. And it turns out that the cell has such a book. It's called DNA.

DNA is the cookbook book of life. It is DNA which tells the cell which amino acids to use and when. Or, more exactly, it is DNA that provides the specific, detailed, step-by-step instructions needed to properly sequence the 20 different amino acids in order to create a working, functioning protein.

In short, DNA contains instructional information.

Of course, we need to understand what we mean by information and how it is that DNA provides this information. It is not like there are little DNA cells using little molecular bullhorns screaming molecular instructions to amino acids. "Hey you, Glycine, get into line and stop joking around with Lysine, we've got serious work to do here".

It doesn't quite work like that.

The question is how does it work? How is it that one molecule (DNA) provides detailed instructions to other molecules (Amino Acids) in order that they can join together to create yet another type of molecule (Proteins)?

And the answer to that question is found in an unlikely place - your computer.

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