13: Genetic Laboratories - Atlantis Revisited

Genetic Engineering—From the Horse’s Mouth

Ray Kurzweil writes in his book, The Singularity is Near (p. 168), that the human genome is a sequential binary code, containing only about 800 million bits of information.[352] Then he adds that when the scientists remove all the redundancies, we are left with only 30 to 100 million bits, which is equivalent to an average software program. What Dr. Kurzweil tells us is that the Controllers are apparently not going to let us have our full brain capacity after all. This becomes obvious because there are no such things as 'redundancies'. If he means that the 95% of the brain we are not using today are 'redundancies', Posthumans are not going to be wiser than their combined knowledge at the time of the Singularity. If he implies that 'redundancies' means taking away even more of the human genome, then we are not even going to have that much. Either way, Posthumans are still going to be quite limited in their capacity; albeit billions of times wiser than today, by Kurzweil’s measures. Then, of course, Posthumans will still be limited to experiencing the 4% Universe hologram — 100% of 4% is still 4%.

Dr. Kurzweil then explains how the human genome is working:

This [genetic] code is supported by a set of biochemical machines that translate these linear (one-dimensional) sequences of DNA 'letters' into strings of simple building blocks called amino acids, which are in turn folded into three-dimensional proteins, which make up all living creatures from bacteria to humans. (Viruses occupy a niche in between living and non-living matter but are also composed of fragments of DNA or RNA.) This machinery is essentially a self-replicating nanoscale replicator that builds the elaborate hierarchy of structures and increasingly complex systems that a living creature comprises.[p. 168]

With the risk of boring you, I also want to cite the direct continuation of the above quote; a section which describes what DNA and RNA are, how they are set up, and how they work. This, in itself, is educational and something each truth-seeker must learn anyway, but that’s only part of the reason why I want to include it here. Be alert to Dr. Kurzweil’s comparison between DNA/RNA and existing technology, such as tape recorders, etc. You, the reader, may ask yourself; how come that technology, in certain terms, replicates our DNA/RNA? Could it possibly be that those who understand our genome, because they created it, gave us the technology — even such technology as early tape recorders, etc.?

Life's Computer

In the very early stages of evolution information was encoded in the structures of increasingly complex organic molecules based on carbon. After billions of years biology evolved its own computer for storing and manipulating digital data based on the DNA molecule. The chemical structure of the DNA molecule was first described by J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick in 1953 as a double helix consisting of a pair of strands of polynucleotides.6 We finished transcribing the genetic code at the beginning of this century. We are now beginning to understand the detailed chemistry of the communication and control processes by which DNA commands reproduction through such other complex molecules and cellular structures as messenger RNA (mRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), and ribosomes.

At the level of information storage the mechanism is surprisingly simple. Supported by a twisting sugarphosphate backbone, the DNA molecule contains up to several million rungs, each of which is coded with one letter drawn from a four-letter alphabet; each rung is thus coding two bits of data in a one-dimensional digital code. The alphabet consists of the four base pairs: adenine-thymine, thymine-adenine, cytosineguanine, and guanine-cytosine.

Special enzymes can copy the information on each rung by splitting each base pair and assembling two identical DNA molecules by rematching the broken base pairs. Other enzymes actually check the validity of the copy by checking the integrity of the base-pair matching. With these copying and validation steps, this chemical data-processing system makes only about one error in ten billion base-pair combinations.7 Further redundancy and error-correction codes are built into the digital data itself, so meaningful mutations resulting from base-pair replication errors are rare. Most of the errors resulting from the one-in-ten-billion error rate will result in the equivalent of a "parity" error, which can be detected and corrected by other levels of the system, including matching against the corresponding chromosome, which can prevent the incorrect bit from causing any significant damage.8 Recent research has shown that the genetic mechanism detects such errors in transcription of the male Y chromosome by matching each Y chromosome gene against a copy on the same chromosome.9 Once in a long while a transcription error will result in a beneficial change that evolution will come to favor.

In a process technically called translation, another series of chemicals put this elaborate digital program into action by building proteins. It is the protein chains that give each cell its structure, behavior, and intelligence. Special enzymes unwind a region of DNA for building a particular protein. A strand of mRNA is created by copying the exposed sequence of bases. The mRNA essentially has a copy of a portion of the DNA letter sequence. The mRNA travels out of the nucleus and into the cell body. The mRNA code is then read by a ribosome molecule, which represents the central molecular player in the drama of biological reproduction. One portion of the ribosome acts like a tape-recorder head, "reading" the sequence of data encoded in the mRNA base sequence. The "letters" (bases) are grouped into words of three letters called codons, with one codon for each of the twenty possible amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein. A ribosome reads the codons from the mRNA and then, using tRNA, assembles a protein chain one amino acid at a time.

The notable final step in this process is the folding of the one-dimensional chain of amino acid "beads" into a three-dimensional protein. Simulating this process has not yet been feasible because of the enormous complexity of the interacting forces from all the atoms involved. Supercomputers scheduled to come online around the time of the publication of this book (2005) are expected to have the computational capacity to simulate protein folding, as well as the interaction of one three-dimensional protein with another.

Protein folding, along with cell division, is one of nature's remarkable and intricate dances in the creation and re-creation of life. Specialized "chaperone" molecules protect and guide the amine-acid strands as they assume their precise three-dimensional protein configurations. As many as one third of formed protein molecules are folded improperly. These disfigured proteins must immediately be destroyed or they will rapidly accumulate, disrupting cellular functions on many levels.

Under normal circumstances, as soon as a misfolded protein is formed, it is tagged by a carrier molecule, ubiquitin, and escorted to a specialized proteosome, where it is broken back down into its component amino acids for recycling into new (correctly folded) proteins. As cells age, however, they produce less of the energy needed for optimal function of this mechanism. Accumulation of these misformed proteins aggregate into particles called protofibrils, which are though to underlie disease processes leading to Alzheimer's disease and other afflictions.10

The ability to simulate the three-dimensional waltz of atomic-level interactions will greatly accelerate our knowledge of how DNA sequences control life and disease. We will then be in a position to rapidly simulate drugs that intervene in any of the steps in this process, thereby hastening drug development and the creation of highly targeted drugs that minimize unwanted side effects.

It is the job of the assembled proteins to carry out the functions of the cell, and by extension the organism. A molecule of hemoglobin, for example, which has the job of carrying oxygen from the lungs to body tissues, is created five hundred trillion times each second in the human body. With more than five hundred amino acids in each molecule of hemoglobin, that comes to 1.5 x 1019 (fifteen billion billion) "read" operations every minute by the ribosomes just for the manufacture of hemoglobin.

In some ways the biochemical mechanism of life is remarkably complex and intricate. In other ways it is remarkably simple. Only four base pairs provide the digital storage for all of the complexity of human life and all other life as we know it. The ribosomes build protein chains by grouping together triplets of base pairs to select sequences from only twenty amino acids. The amino acids themselves are relatively simple, consisting of a carbon atom with its four bonds linked to one hydrogen atom, one amino (-NH2) group, one carboxylic acid (-COOH) group, and one organic group that is different for each amino acid. The organic group for alanine, for example, has only four atoms (CH3-) for a total of thirteen atoms. One of the more complex amino acids, arginine (which plays a vital role in the health of the endothelial cells in our arteries) has only seventeen atoms in its organic group for a total of twenty-six atoms. These twenty simple molecular fragments are the building blocks of all life.

The protein chains then control everything else: the structure of bone cells, the ability of muscle cells to flex and act in concert with other muscle cells, all of the complex biochemical interactions that take place in the bloodstream, and, of course, the structure and functioning of the brain.11 [Pp. 168-170, op. cit.]

Dr. Kurzweil is a baby boomer, born in the early 1950s. This means that he is now a senior citizen at the later part of his life. Under normal circumstances, he would not live until 2045, when the Singularity is scheduled to happen. Astute readers may have asked themselves how Dr. Kurzweil and others of his generation will directly benefit from the Singularity. As I hinted at earlier, Kurzweil and other high-level to mid-level Singularitists might already have been prepared to survive through to the Singularity. In fact, Kurzweil explains in his book that the technology already exists to prolong the life of baby boomers, until humankind reaches the Singularity, and to keep them healthy. Once connected to the SBC, a reverse aging process will begin. It goes without saying that Dr. Kurzweil is already on this aging-preventative program. The question is, when are the Singularitists going to stop the aging process in the everyday baby-boomers? In his book and in his speeches, Kurzweil obviously hints that baby-boomers in general will be “saved” from physical death — at least those who are openly willing to go that route.

Next page: Science and Immortality

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