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Genome Uses Two Languages Simultaneously; Try That Yourself Sometime, Why Don’t You

David Klinghoffer


Researchers at our local powerhouse public university, the U. of Washington, have discovered that the genetic code composes not in one language but two ("Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code").

Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.

"For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made," said Stamatoyannopoulos. "Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways."

The genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The UW team discovered that some codons, which they called duons, can have two meanings, one related to protein sequence, and one related to gene control. These two meanings seem to have evolved in concert with each other. The gene control instructions appear to help stabilize certain beneficial features of proteins and how they are made. [Emphasis added.]

But wait a minute. One language codes for the proteins, the other for gene control — two separate functions. They "evolved in concert," without intention or guidance? Well, they would need to if the premise is that everything in the technology of life did so. What else are you going to say?

But think about how implausible this is. Let’s say I write an article in English about Subject A. But ingeniously I choose my words in such a way that the article can also be read in a different language, providing information about a related but separate Subject B. Meditate for a moment on the ingenuity this would take — not only that, but the forethought, with imagining a complex, distant goal being the first step in the process. The goal arises in a mind, then the mind translates it into reality.

Such things do not happen "in concert," without an intelligent agent thinking carefully ahead of time about the dual purposes he has in view and how they are both going to be achieved.

Our University of Washington scientists say they are "stunned"? They should be. Now as a thought experiment, imagine that instead of two languages operating simultaneously, there are three. Or four. Five? Why not? After all, says Dr. Stamatoyannopoulos, for 40 years scientists missed that there were two. At what number do you stop in your tracks and say: This required planning.

Image: Gabri�l Metsu, The Letter-Writer Surprised/Wikicommons.