Thursday, January 30, 2003

This piece by Richard Dawkins on what precisely genetic engineering is and what it means is extremely good, particularly its discussion of how genetics is digital by its very nature.

The consequences are amazing. It means that a software subroutine (that’s exactly what a gene is) can be carried over into another species. This is why the famous “antifreeze” gene, originally evolved by Antarctic fish, can save a tomato from frost damage. In the same way, a Nasa programmer who wants a neat square-root routine for his rocket guidance system might import one from a financial spreadsheet. A square root is a square root is a square root. A program to compute it will serve as well in a space rocket as in a financial projection.

His prediction that the younger generation will be more comfortable with the biological sciences because they are more comfortable with digital technology and will this find it easier to understand is an interesting one, that may or may not become true.

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