Human DNA contains tremendously complex codes and is one of the greatest mysteries faced by modern science. So what is DNA, and how is it possible that this minuscule fragment contains such a gigantic amount of information?
Consider the following quotes that give a description of a small thing only two-millionths of a millimeter thick.
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“The information necessary to specify the design of all the species of organisms which have ever existed on the planet, a number of approximately one thousand million, could be held in a teaspoon and there would still be room left for all the information in every book ever written.”–Microbiologist Dr. Michael Denton
“DNA is more advanced than any software ever created.”–Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
Today, let’s explore the endless microscopic world inside you and take a closer look at our DNA.
Exploring the mystery of genetics
Francis Collins is the former director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Prior to that, he was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), leading the Human Genome Project. We have all heard of genes, but what is the Human Genome Project?
Human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, with 22 pairs of autosomes and 1 pair of sex chromosomes. Each parent contributes one chromosome to each pair, so half of the chromosomes come from the mother and half from the father. These chromosomes contain a total of 6 billion DNA codes. The Human Genome Project aims to determine the sequence of these DNA codes to create a family portrait and to identify the segments of DNA that have a genetic function, in other words, genes. The ultimate goal is to decipher the genetic information of human beings.
The Human Genome Project was initially driven by the U.S. Department of Energy and the NIH. It gradually became clear that the more research that was done, the more complex it became and the Americans felt that they could not do it alone. So they expanded internationally, finding people from other countries to help them and join in the research, including those from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan, so that the Human Genome Project has become a multinational, interdisciplinary scientific project. To date, mankind has completed sequencing 92 percent of the genomes, and the remaining 8 percent is on hold due to the current limitations of science.
With regard to Dr. Collins, who is leading the project, there is no doubt that he is marvelous in this field of research. He had once described himself as an atheist, but with his research into DNA, he began to think more about life. At the age of 27, Dr. Collins became a devout Christian. At first, when people heard that he had become a believer in God, they did not believe it, and some colleagues even said that he was committing rational suicide. Some even predicted that Dr. Collins’ brain would eventually explode from the conflicts between science and faith.
However, after all these years, Dr. Collins’ brain has not exploded; in fact, it seems to continue to grow with wisdom. In this highly competitive field of molecular biology, he has achieved great success and influence. Dr. Collins is not the only scientist who has undergone such a spiritual transformation. As humans delve deeper into DNA research, more scientists like Dr. Collins are feeling the presence of a higher force. Why is this so?
A DNA code that contains an enormous amount of information
Before we enter the world of DNA research, let me ask you two questions. One: If you left the house this morning and found that the leaves on the ground were neatly arranged to say “Good Morning,” would you think that this was someone’s deliberate attempt to surprise you, or is it simply the random work of the autumn wind? The second question: Would you believe that a monkey could sit in front of a computer and write out the whole Apple MacOS simply by using the 0 and 1 keys? As you think of the answer to these questions, let us enter into the microscopic world and take a look at DNA.
DNA’s double helix structure was discovered in 1953 by American biologist James Watson and British Biologist Francis Crick. When this discovery came to light, the scientific community was simply amazed that mankind had opened the door to finding the secrets of genetics.
DNA is responsible for the transmission of genetic information through one of the four bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), or thymine (T). Now, we’ll simply use the letters to refer to them. These four bases are paired into 2 groups, with A forming a base pair with T, and C forming a base pair with G.These base pairs, in different combinations, determine the genetic properties of organisms such as height and weight, as well as psychological genetic characteristics such as personality and intelligence.
A DNA molecule consists of two strands that wind around each other like a twisted ladder. Each strand has a backbone and this forms the structure of the double-stranded helix. It may seem small at only 6 micrometers, but if we were to straighten it out, it would be as long as 2 meters, which is taller than the average height of an adult man.
If we use the letters ATCG to represent the double-stranded structure of DNA, doesn’t it look a lot like the perforated paper tape that was used in the early days of computer programming? In the world of computer programming, binary encoding was used, so regardless of the programming language, whether it was C++ or Java, eventually it would still be converted into a computing language consisting of 0’s and 1’s.
Now, in the digital age, all kinds of technologies, such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and so on are all made possible by instructions given from the sequences of 0 and 1. So according to Dr. Collins, bringing the idea of computer programming into the world of DNA, we can say that DNA uses a quadratic code, the four ATCG codes.
With it being a quadratic code, it will definitely contain more information than a binary code, right? For example, for 20 sequences, if we were using binary coding, then the number of combinations that can be achieved would be 2 to the power of 20, which is equal to over 1 million combinations. So if we were using quadratic coding, then it would 4 to the power of 20, which is over 1 trillion combinations. So how much information does the human DNA contain? Let’s do some math here.
As we have previously mentioned, there are 60 billion DNA codes in the 23 pairs of chromosomes inside human cells. The Human Genome Project has generally identified that there is no difference between men and women in terms of the high degree of autosomal identity. We can then say that the human DNA genetic information is made up roughly of 3 billion quadratic codes. In other words, the amount of information that can be contained in a single human cell is 4 to the power of 3 billion.
To store such a large amount of information in such a small space is the ultimate dream of computer storage systems. The combination of one or more of these 3 billion DNA codes can manipulate the human body to perform a variety of complex functions. You may be aware that human life starts with a tiny fertilized egg that replicates and divides, and each chromosome contains the same DNA. However, when these cells enter the stage of differentiation, each cell will change into their various designated functions to form various cells and tissues in the body, such as red and white blood cells, nerve cells, and various organ cells.
Biologists have also discovered that the human embryo develops different tissues and organs at different stages during its development. Even the timing of these special events is set so that babies born earlier or later may end up with congenital defects. All this is precisely controlled by the DNA code.
Pandora’s Box: Modifying human genes
While humans may have discovered how some genes operate, that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the information contained in the 3 billion DNA codes. You may remember the 2018 controversy surrounding He Jiankui, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China and his team on genetically altered embryos. At the time, they wanted to try and make babies immune to AIDS. His actions received widespread condemnation. Apart from ethical issues, there were also technical issues and potential risks to the long-term well-being of the babies.
With the current limited knowledge of DNA codes, people are already trying to modify genes at will. Who knows whether genetic modifications will change the possibility of contracting AIDS, or whether it will change the future of humanity? Off-target effects, where other genes are accidentally damaged during the gene editing process, can occur, resulting in serious genetic mutations. These genetic defects could be passed on to the next generations, eventually posing a risk to the entire human race. This is why some people have described the act of modifying human genes as opening a Pandora’s Box to the destruction of humanity.
Let’s use the analogy of software programming. If you attempt to edit a super program with a very large source code and powerful functions without fully understanding the source code, the whole system could crash. Similarly, with the four codes of ATCG, could the result of writing 3 billion DNA programs into a perfect combination of the human body with high intelligence be coincidental or a random act of nature?
Strong stability of DNA
DNA also has a very powerful ability to replicate. When a cell divides into two, the DNA is rapidly replicated so that both cells have identical DNA. Our bodies are making these copies countless times every minute each day. However, say if a programmer can type one DNA code per second, and continue to do so every day for 8 hours each day, without resting for 365 days, he’ll still need 57 years to completely write the DNA code of one cell.
Of course, some people may say that they can use the computer to store the entire human DNA codes, and use a supercomputer to replicate it in a matter of minutes. Perhaps this may be true, but it is still much slower than the self-replicating DNA within the cells. If we think about it, supercomputers are created by intelligent beings like humans, but who gave this ability to DNA?
Another overlooked point is that DNA is capable of repairing itself when it is damaged or replicated incorrectly, including mismatch repair, excision repair, recombination repair, and so on. As of now, there are 140 known methods of DNA repair. Even if there is no way to make a repair, the DNA repair system will activate a “self-cancellation mechanism” where the cell will sacrifice itself along with the faulty DNA to ensure the faulty genetic information does not spread further. To be honest, even the best programmers in this current age could not write such an intelligent program.
DNA’s superb, precise replication and self-repair system has largely ensured the stability of biological genetic information. So here we have to say that the probability of a revolutionary genetic transformation as described in the theory of evolution and for it to be passed on through generations is very small. The Human Genome Project has found that after tens of thousands of generations of human development, there is only about a 1 percent difference in DNA coding between people worldwide, regardless of their race. This 1 percent difference is what creates the different traits and characteristics between you and me. It does not create new species.
Do humans and chimpanzees really share the same ancestor?
Because the theory of evolution has always insisted that humans and chimpanzees share the same ancestor, out of curiosity, we researched the chromosome information of other primates. It was shocking to find that the chromosome numbers of all primates can vary a lot.
Primate chromosome information
- Humans: 23 pairs
- Macaques: 21 pairs
- Squirrel monkeys: 22 pairs
- Rhesus monkeys: 21 pairs
- Capuchin monkeys: 27 pairs
- Chimpanzees: 24 pairs
Let’s take a look at this list, and assume for a moment that humans and chimpanzees really did evolve from a common ape-like ancestor. There must have been a huge “genetic mutation” for the chromosomes to change to the current 23 pairs.
Suppose, for example, that there is a female ape ancestor that had 24 pairs of chromosomes and it then evolved to become human-like with 23 pairs of chromosomes. For this number to be passed on, there must be a male ape ancestor who also experienced the same mutation to 23 pairs of chromosomes. Furthermore, these two ape-like ancestors would have to mate with each other so that their next generation could also maintain the 23 pairs of chromosomes. In fact, from a genetic point of view, a random increase or decrease of one or even half a chromosome in a cell during the process of passing to the next generation has serious consequences.
A typical example of this is Down’s syndrome, in which the person has an extra chromosome, that is 47 chromosomes in total. Medical research has found that people with Down’s syndrome are more likely to have congenital disorders than the general population. Therefore, according to the theory of natural selection, these apes with chromosomal gain or loss are actually more likely to be eliminated by nature. For an ape-like creature to evolve into a human is almost an impossible task. The huge chromosomal change alone would have been enough to stop them on this road of evolution.
Now, if we look at the complex and powerful DNA coding, it is easy to see why leading scholars like Dr. Francis Collins would believe that God is everywhere the more they delve into their research. In the article Why this scientist believes in God, written by Dr. Collins, he said: “As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan.” (CNN)
What do you think of today’s journey into DNA? Is it possible that nothing around us is that simple? Do you feel that DNA is the very design of creation? If so, then who do you think created DNA?