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Thread: A Comparison Between DNA and Computer Hard Drives

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    Arrow A Comparison Between DNA and Computer Hard Drives

    The robust storage, updating and utilization of information are necessary for the maintenance and perpetuation of dynamic systems. These systems can exist as constructs of metal-oxide semiconductors and silicon, as in a digital computer, or in the "wetware" of organic compounds, proteins and nucleic acids that make up biological organisms. We propose that there are essential functional properties of centralized information-processing systems; for digital computers these properties reside in the computer's hard drive, and for eukaryotic cells they are manifest in the DNA and associated structures.

    Presented herein is a descriptive framework that compares DNA and its associated proteins and sub-nuclear structure with the structure and function of the computer hard drive. We identify four essential properties of information for a centralized storage and processing system: (1) orthogonal uniqueness, (2) low level formatting, (3) high level formatting and (4) translation of stored to usable form. The corresponding aspects of the DNA complex and a computer hard drive are categorized using this classification. This is intended to demonstrate a functional equivalence between the components of the two systems, and thus the systems themselves.

    Both the DNA complex and the computer hard drive contain components that fulfill the essential properties of a centralized information storage and processing system. The functional equivalence of these components provides insight into both the design process of engineered systems and the evolved solutions addressing similar system requirements. However, there are points where the comparison breaks down, particularly when there are externally imposed information-organizing structures on the computer hard drive. A specific example of this is the imposition of the File Allocation Table (FAT) during high level formatting of the computer hard drive and the subsequent loading of an operating system (OS). Biological systems do not have an external source for a map of their stored information or for an operational instruction set; rather, they must contain an organizational template conserved within their intra-nuclear architecture that "manipulates" the laws of chemistry and physics into a highly robust instruction set. We propose that the epigenetic structure of the intra-nuclear environment and the non-coding RNA may play the roles of a Biological File Allocation Table (BFAT) and biological operating system (Bio-OS) in eukaryotic cells.

    The comparison of functional and structural characteristics of the DNA complex and the computer hard drive leads to a new descriptive paradigm that identifies the DNA as a dynamic storage system of biological information. This system is embodied in an autonomous operating system that inductively follows organizational structures, data hierarchy and executable operations that are well understood in the computer science industry. Characterizing the "DNA hard drive" in this fashion can lead to insights arising from discrepancies in the descriptive framework, particularly with respect to positing the role of epigenetic processes in an information-processing context. Further expansions arising from this comparison include the view of cells as parallel computing machines and a new approach towards characterizing cellular control systems.
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    "And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring;..." Plato Politeia

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