Re: [asa] Molecular Biology and Design

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Thu Jan 01 2009 - 14:36:59 EST

Hi Mike,

I've been pondering over your recent thoughts here for sometime on this topic, but probably only have some basic questions to ask you, and that as an outsider both to molecular biology and engineering.

You write: "molecular
biology is permeated with engineering concepts"

On what basis do you claim this, i.e. that concepts have been 'transferred' from engineering to molecular biology? Are you suggesting that biologists are reading engineering journals and realising that certain concepts may also express linguistically what they are observing in their biological laboratories and in the field? Or perhaps are there engineers who have sought a new profession in molecular biology and thus 'imported' their ways of thinking from engineering into the new field? (The latter example of interdisciplinarity may be rare from engineering to biology, but it holds more easily in other areas of study.) Or perhaps there is some other explanation you have for how the ideas and language are spreading from one respective field to another?

Second, are you suggesting that molecules are themselves 'machines' (i.e. cellular mechanisms) or that saying they are 'like machines' is an effective way to speak about them? To me, organisms and machines are simply not the same thing, they are not equivalent and shouldn't be confused (the scene in Kubrick-Spielberg's AI where the human-boys are circling the 'robot-boy' near the pool chanting ORGA-MECHA gets most keenly at this issue). Yet if biologists find engineering concepts attractive on the basis that it helps them to understand the structures, systems and information they are observing in nature, then why not incorporate or collaborate or even let the engineers loose on human nature?

It almost appears that you are advocating biologists to re-define concepts from 'outside' discplines into their own. Or we could call it sharing. In this case, it is importing 'mechanistic' language into a natural scientific field. Do you worry about this in any way?

The simplest question in this message for the last: Aren't machines also 'constructed' and 'made,' in addition to being 'designed'?


p.s. the cells are computers analogy or parallel, as you say earlier, would seem to lead down the road to Kurzweil's suggestion that we are 'Spiritual Machines.'

--- On Thu, 1/1/09, Nucacids <> wrote:
From: Nucacids <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Molecular Biology and Design
Received: Thursday, January 1, 2009, 9:58 PM


Over at Telic Thoughts, there is
a new contributor who uses the handle Techne.  Techne has posted a nice review of a new
paper by Antoine Danchin from the Pasteur Institut entitled, “Bacteria as
computers making computers.”
While I have yet to read the
paper, it appears Danchin’s paper further supports my contention that molecular
biology is permeated with engineering concepts.  Techne quotes the following excerpt:
“Historically, systems biology
follows on from molecular biology, a science based on many concepts more closely
linked to arithmetic and computation than to classical physics or chemistry.
Molecular biology relies heavily on concepts such as ‘control’, ‘coding’ or
‘information’, which are at the heart of arithmetic and computation. To accept
the cell as a computer conjecture first requires an exploration of the concept
of information, in relation to the concept of genetic program.”
After raising many interesting
points, Techne concludes:
“The article continues to discuss
at length the parallels between our own created information processing systems
(computers) and molecular processes fundamental to life.  With more and
more information being gathered on cellular mechanisms, cells can be seen as
computers (machines expressing various programs), that are not only able to
govern cellular processes needed to sustain the software, but also contains the
necessary software and machinery to reproduce the computing machine while
replicating its program. The article is sure to provide information for many
more interesting blog discussions.”
- Mike __________________________________________________________________ Instant Messaging, free SMS, sharing photos and more... Try the new Yahoo! Canada Messenger at

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Received on Thu Jan 1 14:37:23 2009

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