How does cells use the DNA inside them? I am looking on DNA as a strip of tape of Turing machine, but with machines its easy. I can read the tape and calculate the behavior of that machine. With cells its different we don't really understand the language of DNA.

So instead of trying to understand the language I was wandering if there are any particular behaviors of cells that we can associate to different "outputs" of the DNA tape.


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  • $\begingroup$ DNA changes to RNA, which can either effect the behaviour of DNA itself through non-coding RNA or changes into proteins, which can also affect the DNA. $\endgroup$ – Bez Oct 8 '14 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ We actually really do understand DNA... $\endgroup$ – canadianer Oct 8 '14 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ the analogy with the turing machine is correct I think, but there is still much and more research to do in biology order to make ideal cell-computing models $\endgroup$ – Katz Oct 9 '14 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer really? That's news to me. We understand a lot about it but not everything. Not even close to everything. $\endgroup$ – terdon Oct 9 '14 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ You might find this article interesting: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11504843. $\endgroup$ – terdon Oct 9 '14 at 13:50

but with machines its easy.

It's not that easy...the Turing machine can't interpret the tape without knowing something about what the 1s and 0's mean. A complied C++ program is gibberish if read through a Perl interpreter.

DNA isn't as abstract as that, anyway. A DNA molecule interacts with other molecules based on its shape, which the sequence of letters defines. There are thousands of molecules in a cell which the DNA strand can interact with, and those molecules are affected by other molecules. Think about it...for the most part, all the DNA in your cells is the same, but obviously the cells in your liver are doing different things than the cells in your skin.

With cells its different we don't really understand the language of DNA.

That's not the problem. We just don't understand ALL the relevant interactions, because there are so many of them. There is not one thing reading through the string of DNA once.

I was wandering if there are any particular behaviors of cells that we can associate to different "outputs" of the DNA tape.

The outputs would be proteins, but you can't just look at the DNA sequence and know what proteins will be made when and in what quantities, not without having empirically learned a lot about those proteins.

Look, there are lots of people who know a lot about computers and a lot about biology. If thinking about DNA as a simple string of information was fruitful, people would be doing that. We don't, because biology is more complicated than that.


The central dogma of molecular biology states that DNA encodes the information for building proteins, the information is copied to messenger RNA through transcription, and messenger RNA is used to build proteins through translation. DNA is also copied through replication.

So while it's true that DNA contains the information needed to build a living organism, I don't think it can described as "turing tape" If I understand turing machines correctly, you have a string of 1s or 0s, and a machine reads this string. Based on rules provided by an instruction set the machine can set positions on the tape to 1 or 0. The analogy with DNA fails because DNA does not have a separate instruction set and cannot be written to. DNA produces RNA and DNA with the help of many many proteins and other molecules, all tightly regulated to coordinate replication of the genome and to produce the right amounts of RNA and protein at the right times. DNA can mutate when replication makes an error, but this is accidental, not comparable to turing machines.

If you're interested in how DNA might be used like a computer, there are several articles on DNA Computing, though you'll have to sort through those papers because many look like they just used a computer to analyze DNA.


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