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Preview: James Tour, Brian Miller on the Origin of “Data Risk Management” in DNA

David Klinghoffer
Photo credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash.

I observed earlier today, noting a new recognition for the recent book The Mystery of Life’s Origin, that 2020 is not going to go down in history as the Year of the Expert. Of course, I didn’t mean to run down experts or expertise in general. But sometimes you get a situation where experts with crucial insights simply haven’t been invited to the conversation about a particular question. 

When it comes to the origin of biological wonders, a couple of examples might be doctors and engineers, including computer engineers. Unlike evolutionary biologists, members of these professions succeed or fail based on their ability to keep things working, or in the case of engineers, their ability to design functional things from the ground up. They know exactly what goes into operation, in a way that evolutionary biologists don’t. 

The complexity of devising and maintaining function is a consideration that bears, obviously, on the origin of life itself. Two contributors to the Mystery book are synthetic organic chemist James Tour at Rice University and physicist Brian Miller at Discovery Institute. We’re in for a treat this Friday, December 4 at 5:30 pm Pacific time/8:30 Eastern, when Dr. Tour and Dr. Miller discuss “Thermodynamics and Origin of Life” for Professor Tour’s Science & Faith podcast. Look for it here:

In a sneak preview, Miller and Tour discuss a fascinating engineering perspective: parallels between how biological information is handled in living cells and how — oh my, what a timely topic! — how it is safeguarded from loss, or perhaps hacking or other interference, in the context of information technology. 

Tour wants to know, “What is the origin of the data risk management characteristics of DNA?” He’s referring to “redundant systems” that are “not necessary for operation but to protect against data loss.”

“That’s a wonderful question,” says Miller. And who can disagree? “[Computer] engineers looked at this and said, ‘That’s exactly what we do!’” If intelligent computer scientists build systems like that, and life at the DNA level also incorporates them, for the very same reasons, that’s rather suggestive. Join James Tour and Brian Miller for their conversation about this and related subjects on Friday!