Bits & Genes

March 14, 2017 • #

As I started The Gene, I was assuming it’d be framed as a history of genetics. There’s a significant amount of history on the discoveries made the last few centuries as scientists gained an understanding of how hereditary traits are encoded and transmitted. But my favorite parts of the narrative are when Mukherjee seeks to look at the gene as the fundamental building block, making comparisons to bits and atoms.

It reminded me of another book I’d like to revisit: James Gleick’s The Information. That book is to bits what The Gene was to genetics. Claude Shannon’s information theory shares so many parallels with genetics: both required technology to see nanoscopic things, rested on huge amounts of prior knowledge in physics, chemistry, and mathematics, and involved breaking down building blocks into ever more tiny requisite parts. Nearly all of our understanding of each of these sciences was gained since about 1950. We’re only just figuring out the fundamentals of both, and the potential for engineering them to our whims — through advancements in computing and AI on one end and gene splicing and gene therapy on the other. Genes are biological information. So I wonder what the next few decades will look like as the two disciplines start to converge.