Inspired by genetics, chemistry finally takes hold of its own code

Aug 19, 2012

Nature proves every day that it is both complex and efficient. Organic chemists are envious of it; their conventional tools confine them to simpler achievements. Thanks to the work of professor Stefan Matile's team from the University of Geneva, these limitations could become a thing of the past. His publication in the Nature Chemistry journal indeed offers a new kind of code to chemists, allowing them to access new levels of complexity.

Stefan Matile opts for sincerity. For him, if organic chemistry is often fond of simplifying its functional systems, it is because it is mostly impossible for it to construct and manage molecular architectures as complex as those produced with tremendous efficiency in nature. "It's a fact", says the UNIGE professor and NCCR member, "that we are far from being able to match the genius of nature."

Where the complexity arises

The specialist attributes the to this genius of nature. "It is rather simple because it is based on four foundations—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine (A, C, G, and T). The double helix structure of DNA is also quite simple. The complexity arises mainly from the cell's transfer of this information from one stage to the next."

Stefan Matile has long believed that a code also exists in and must be discovered, which he is convinced he has achieved with the assistance of his colleague, Edvinas Orentas.

"I must admit that this work is extremely complicated, fundamental, and theoretical," the professor continues. "But I also think it's quite revolutionary, especially if we are able to implement it on a practical level."

Laying the foundation

In fact, thanks to him, organic chemists may be able to stop laboriously constructing their functional systems, atom by atom, link by link. The code would allow them to write two-dimensional maps, a relatively simple and manageable challenge. The complexity of three-dimensional systems would then be created by transcribing this scheduled information; a transcription that, with supporting proof, has a reliability of 97%, so close to perfection. A powerful way to approach the complexity of nature.

From now on, Stefan Matile's group will try to put this code into practice to produce surface materials like the ones used to make organic solar cells, which mimic the processes at work during photosynthesis. "We don't yet know if it will work exactly as we expect, but the adventure promises to be exciting."

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kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (17) Aug 19, 2012
The double helix structure of DNA is also quite simple. The complexity arises mainly from the cell's transfer of this information from one stage to the next.

So if all this complexity already exists at the DNA level, just where did it come from? It could not have "evolved" because there wouldn't be any life yet without the complexity already in it.
Then: Information - as recognized by the researcher in the article. This does not come from physical processes in random transitions - it can only come from an intelligent mind. Note that the information is independent of the physical substrate that contains it - the information lies in the arrangement of the bases, not in an inherent physical or chemical properties of the DNA molecule. The information could have been presented in any other substrate - same as having the same information on a physical page or on an optical disk. The information comes only from an intelligent mind - that needed to be said twice.
BIG COCK
5 / 5 (7) Aug 19, 2012
This article is absolutely terrible. It presents no specifics of what the research actually accomplished, gives no indication of what he actually did other than a vague story, and to top it off, it gives no link or reference to the published article in question other than that it appears in the journal Nature Chemistry. Aren't there supposed to be standards of journalism that are supposed to prevent rubbish like this from being published?

As an example of how it's vague, the article says "In fact, thanks to him, organic chemists may be able to stop laboriously constructing their functional systems, atom by atom, link by link. The code would allow them to write two-dimensional maps, a relatively simple and manageable challenge." It gives no indication of what the maps are written on, how they are being written, or even what they physically are.

The near emptiness of content would be almost forgivable if a reference to the publication was given for further reading; none is provided.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (3) Aug 19, 2012
@kevintrs - your confusion stems from neglecting what the information in question is "about". Information is always about something.

Genetic information is "about" proteins, and it's also made of proteins.

Also, evolution isn't the exclusive reserve of living systems, rather it's a thermodynamic process. A system can evolve entropically, becoming less ordered, or negentropically, becoming more ordered. Either type of gradient piggybacks on the other - that is, negentropic gradients are fuelled by entropic ones and vice versa. The system that refined the first functioning RNA or whatever precursor was complex but not intelligent. I don't know what or where it was however it followed this dynamic.

"Irreducible complexity" of naturally occurring and randomly self combining molecules is a weak argument; the air around you is swimming with such spontaneous RNA chains. Some even form functional viruses...
MrVibrating
not rated yet Aug 19, 2012
@BC - innit? Sounds tantalising though, whatever it is, maybe.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2012
So if all this complexity already exists at the DNA level, just where did it come from? It could not have "evolved" because there wouldn't be any life yet without the complexity already in it.


It doesn't. That's the point. It exists as a result of an ongoing process.

See for example, cellular automata that are turing-complete. From extremely simple mathematical rules you get a system that is capable of almost infinite complexity as long as you keep repeating the iterations somehow:

http://en.wikiped...Rule_110

The whole sequence of rules that makes the 110 work is so small that you could come up with it in a reasonable time just by throwing a coin. If there's a chemical analog to these kinds of systems, I would bet it's DNA.

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