LIFE AS A SAMIZDAT
Essay by Gustáv Murín
It seems that we've heard a lot about life and its meaning from human sciences. But still there is something missing. So what if we try the science of life - biology?
The most recent knowledge indicates that the carrier of basic genetic information, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), is not so fragile as we've been let to believe. It has preserved traces of its code in even the most unpromising conditions for centuries. Moreover, traces have been found of its more or less independent existence. Thus it is possible with the appropriate techniques to search into the history of this information base of all life. The latest definition of life according to cybernetics is that life is information. This is connected with R. Dawkins' hypothesis of "a selfish gene". According to this theory everything living that we know on this earth is only a more or less complicated "carrier" of this selfish, autonomous information--selfish because it seeks only its own dissemination at the price of destruction of other versions of life. Copulation with murder is not rare in Nature. The male who overcomes another takes over his female and kills his descendants. The female stops breast-feeding, becomes accessible for mating again and in most cases gives birth to the offspring of a murderer who now possess his genes. If somebody think such logic is strange for humans let him go and see Shakespeare's tragedy Richard III.
Dissent strategy of "selfish DNA"Specific conditions in Nature lead to dissent strategy for preservation of life. Dissidents in politically hostile environment try to preserve specific information (as in the fact that in a democracy, freedom of expression and right to travel really can exist). They learned very quickly that this information in one copy may be easily lost. Even if it could be hidden in solid safe, treason or accident will cause that it will be found there. If this one piece of information can be hidden at secret place known only to the author and few others, it could be even worse because oppression of hostile environment may ruin this dissident group before it can reveal the location of that secret place. Thousands years of human experience demonstrate that the most solid fortresses, massive tombs, most sophisticated labyrinths did not protect treasures from robbery. Pyramids are symbols of the naiveté of believing in eternal protection. The only guarantee of preserving such unique treasure, and DNA is especially unique and fragile treasure, is multiplication. In case of dissidents this strategy was called -- samizdat. The more copies of samizdat books they succeeded in producing, the greater the chances were that some of them -- even under pressure of the oppressive power of secret police, political prison, tortures and executions - would survive and fulfill its role. Maybe even thanks to one case, when a single copy of a book was left for long years somewhere on a shelf out of the sight of the secret police. And this is exactly how "selfish DNA" behaves - hidden in most bizarre forms of life. Each had its meaning as even "selfish DNA" does not know which form will be the champion in surviving. What if a pink-dotted bugs with green legs will be the most suitable to go through all obstacles of changes in environment? Could someone even imagine that such an outsider in family of species like the cockroach may be that naturally gifted carrier of this unique message that "selfish DNA" contains? And yet the cockroach seems to be one of the few species that can survive all the horrible consequences of nuclear war!
An information treasureDNA is a miracle of dissemination of information in space and time. It attempts every possible and even impossible, bizarre form of shelter and has found many of them already. It is the most delicate treasure that has ever existed on this planet. With one's thumb an ant can be crushed and one unique copy destroyed forever. This is why there are billions of ants spread over all the continents and there are certainly some in your pantry as well. A long dry period, deep cold or on the contrary too much water and heat, and fragile genetic information will end with this six legged form. That's why some DNA makes copies in forms adapted to water, from shallow to deep waters. That's why there are DNA copies also in forms with legs to have a chance escape if necessary. But that's why there are DNA copies also in forms with roots so they can firmly occupy the largest possible territory on this planet and replicate themselves to the largest extent. That's why some copies have grown also to a gigantic size so that nothing can eat them. But because even the gigantic forms of the dinosaurs were not shown to be eternal, there are copies of the "selfish DNA" hidden even in invisible microbiotic forms and these again are in most incredible places - in the intestines of different species, the vaginas of different kinds of females, even in boiling thermal springs and the always frozen glacier. This is the way how DNA is preserved within space.
"Selfish DNA" not only hides itself but replicates itself in the most incredible forms -- from the noble expression of love between people, through the wedding dances of animals and bizarre mating practices of fish and amphibians, up to untrammeled promiscuity of microbes. This way it insures itself against the destructive power of the non-living as well as living parts of the immediate environment. Some may be surprised that different forms of DNA are not only concurrent, but also fight with each other and consume each other. It is because matter forming "selfish DNA" is complete. Thus every new promising form in which it may reach eternity has priority. This way DNA vigorously opposes the second law of thermodynamics, that with intricate mathematical evidence confirms what Bible says shortly -- you're dust and to dust you will return. "Selfish DNA" does not believe in the fatalism of religion. It does not give up. Never.
(to be continued)