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Codes, language, information theory

  1. Sep 27, 2010 #1
    The Information Theory and Cybernetics (Shannon, Wiener) and the perspective of some physicists (Schrödinger) was very influential on the development of Molecular Genetics.

    The molecular genetic approach showed its power to explain a lot of biological and medical problems, from evolution mechanisms to human diseases, but the practical results secondary to the the great projects as the Human Genome Project and derived projects (Encode, HapMap...), seem to be very far of the early hopes centered on health prevalent problems (cancer, degenerative diseases and so on)

    It is possible that the conventional context, yet based in an informative conception of life (DNA as a software) and a reductionist, mainly biochemical, approach, need to be changed by other theoretical frame, probably more physical than biochemical and more holistic than reductionnistic.

    What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2010 #2


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    Yes, this has been a major theme within theoretical biology. You can google the work of Howard Pattee, Stan Salthe and Robert Rosen in particular.

    The key idea is here is not how to replace one notion of causality (ie: computational mechanism or code) with another. But in fact the necessity of an interaction between two worlds - the code and the self-organising. So the deep framework is a combination of two frameworks (hierarchically arranged).

    Pattee called the distinction the epistemic cut. Rosen called it MR systems - a division between metabolism and replication (or repair).

    Salthe has made a connection to Prigogine's dissipative structure theory and also to Peircean semiotics (and googling biosemiosis will link to that currently lively community), as well as coining his own infodynamics approach.

    Another now widely recognised distinction is between evolution (code) and development (self-organisation) - hence evo-devo.

    This is a good collection of Pattee oriented papers....

    And a paper on infodynamics by Salthe... [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Sep 27, 2010 #3


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    Not at all, the future is here! We can take something like a tumor necrosis factor ligand expressed on cytotoxic T-cells from a patient who's leukocytes are very good at fighting cancer, tag them to artificial gene with a strong promoter, insert it into the leukocytes of someone dying of melanoma, grow those up in the lab and then transplant them back into the patient. The idea being, the hybrid leukocytes will have increased cancer killing power.

    Just such a thing has been done already, http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/2006/melanomagenetherapy" [Broken]. And has successfully treated advanced staged melanomas.

    You can go here; http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct", and see there are over 3,000 stem cell therapies under clinical trial and over 2,500 gene therapies under clinical trials.

    Certainly it's still early in the game, but results of the molecular genetics "enlightenment" are here and underway now. And in our lifetimes (well I don't know how you are) the advanced gene therapies will be spectacular!

    Edit: Also, just the other day I saw something about the first successful gene therapy for a B-Thalassemia. I'll dig it up if you're interested.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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