Life is information


DNA contains the information, in a code, that enables an organism to become ‘alive’. Life is really all about information. That is why the previous post regarding Google getting into health is not far fetched since Google is all about information.

If you want to read a great series of articles about information and the coming petabyte age, including how this might change how we do science go to Wired magazine.

If life is all about information what happens when some information is lost – a decrease in life function and potentially death. A large part of aging is the loss of fidelity (integrity) of the system. There are many levels of information in the biological system: DNA, RNA, protein, signaling cascades, and system. At all of these levels the individual components can be modified (for the good and bad) and information can be lost. When information is lost the organism can suffer. A very simple example of this is through one or more mutations (one current theory) cancer can occur and the organism may die. Another example would a mutation of a gene, or modification along the way that reduces the amount and/or function of a protein. Now most biological systems are quite robust to alterations and can absorb the impact of many changes, but with enough loss the system no longer functions to the optimal level. Take the simple process of aging.

Just like you don’t want a corrupted hard drive of all the information you have collected – the picture of your graduation, the pictures of your family, etc, you don’t want to lose your biological information. With electronic data we can make backups, but we cannot do that with biological information (well you could store some of your DNA –but that does not represent the current you with all your memories etc).

Hence, for overall body and brain health you want to reduce the amount of lost information. You do not want mutations (skipping the importance of mutations for evolution), you do not want loss of normal RNA and protein expression under the appropriate environmental condition.

I could point you to a bunch of articles that is basically saying the same thing as I am (probably more elegantly) but I think the general idea is pretty easy to grasp and is really common sense. So I assume most of you are going to be thinking that what I have just pointed out above is obvious – a no brainer. The real question is what can you do to stop the loss of information?

How much would you pay to slow down your rate of information loss? Or would you argue that you really don’t care? Would you care if your hard drive slowly starts losing information – and you could not make a backup? Which do you care more about – the information on your hard drive, or your life?