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New Long Story Short — Life’s Ingenious Code

Image source: Long Story Short.

As the latest episode of Long Story Short observes, if you were to compare the sophistication of any human invention with the sophistication built into a lowly single-celled bacterium, with its complement of cellular nanomachinery, the bacterium would have to be recognized as by far the more sophisticated. That fact, and what it implies, can be stated plainly. Or you can have fun, a lot of fun, with it ­— and that’s what Long Story does.

The new installment, “The Codes of Life,” looks at the genetic code — a language carrying information, like our own English language, but incomparably more sophisticated than English. Our language has, for example, palindromes (like “kayak”). It has heteropalindromes, which yield different meanings depending on whether you read them forward or backward (like “repaid” and “diaper”). Forming a meaningful heteropalindromic sentence or other longish text, that can be read in either direction, is beyond challenging.

For the genetic code, though, it’s business as usual. And there’s more. In biology, coding needs “to be read, not just backwards but MULTIPLE different ways” — for example, coding that overlaps with itself. Try designing, from the ground up, a human language that does that, and then try writing a multivolume encyclopedia in it. 

“You Know the Answer”

These qualities are not just an ingenious but otherwise useless trick. They are crucial to information compression.

Researchers have shown that the genetic code doesn’t just ALLOW this kind of information compression, but it is actually OPTIMIZED to allow overlapping genes to exist.

Long Story provides a journal citation on that point, “Optimality in the standard genetic code is robust with respect to comparison code sets,” reported in BioSystems. Wow. It was “optimized,” how? Toward what end? By random accidents, working toward no end at all?

The video asks, “Where in your experience do things like language, proofreading, nanomachines, and information-rich code come from? You know the answer. They have only one known cause. Intelligence.” Proponents of unguided evolution are forced to reply, “Well, we know another cause, and it’s unguided evolution!” But that is a statement of faith, and assumes to be true what no one has shown. Long Story delivers an entertaining lesson on all this. Watch and enjoy: