Quantum biology

Saying the the world of genetics may be poised for the same kind of revolution previously undergone by cosmology and quantum physics, this SEED article suggests that far from simple chemical transmission, "genetic information" is passed along in a more subtle manner than first believed.

For nearly 50 years, the central dogma of biology has been that geneticinformation is contained within DNA and is passed by rote transcription through RNA to make proteins. Tiny changes in the information content of the underlying DNA are what then drive evolution. But this information may not be the sole determinant of biological identity. Indeed, it's becoming clear that we do not even know what 'genetic information' means any more—certainly it's not a simple, linear sequence of biochemical 'characters' that define a gene....

Tidy ideas are useful in science, but we need to know when to abandon them, as when both Newtonian mechanics and the solar-system model of the atom were replaced by the subtler world of quantum physics. Molecular and evolutionary biology appears to be poised for a revolution of that order.

The piece reminded me of a public television NOVA story on "epigenes," gene markers which appear in the words of one scientist to have the task of regulating gene expression, of "reminding genes what they are," and can also be passed from generation to generation in response to environmental cues.

In both cases, the basic notion of what constitutes "information" is being rethought.

Wayne