Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wetware by Dennis Bray

Three years ago I wrote a blog post about research into the various DNA repair mechanisms, entitled "Cellular Software." Those mechanisms are "programmed" in a sophisticated control network that one researcher described as "something akin to a computer program that becomes activated by DNA damage, and that program enables the cells to respond very quickly." Since then more has been learned of this amazing repair facility.

But of course the cell's sophisticated control network goes far beyond DNA repair. Enter Dennis Bray and his new book Wetware. Here is the publisher's description:

How does a single-cell creature, such as an amoeba, lead such a sophisticated life? How does it hunt living prey, respond to lights, sounds, and smells, and display complex sequences of movements without the benefit of a nervous system? This book offers a startling and original answer.

In clear, jargon-free language, Dennis Bray taps the findings of the new discipline of systems biology to show that the internal chemistry of living cells is a form of computation. Cells are built out of molecular circuits that perform logical operations, as electronic devices do, but with unique properties. Bray argues that the computational juice of cells provides the basis of all the distinctive properties of living systems: it allows organisms to embody in their internal structure an image of the world, and this accounts for their adaptability, responsiveness, and intelligence.

It's amazing how evolution can configure these logical operations to create bug-free cellular software, resulting in complex behaviors.