I just finished reading “Gene Order and Dynamic Domains” (from whence the image is taken). It reminded me again how different evolved solutions are from designed ones.
In eukaryotes, DNA is bound into various higher order structures. They start by being bound into nucleosomes and from there form a variety of more complicated structures. Trivially, this helps the DNA fit into the nucleus, but probably more significantly, DNA that is wrapped up cannot be transcribed into pre-mRNA on its way to becoming a protein. So arguably the more important function of nuclear organization of DNA is a regulatory function. It turns out that even when “untangled” in interphase, the non-dividing portion of a cell’s life cycle, chromosomes keep themselves more or less together in “chromosome territories”. While they aren’t in the highly compact condensed form you’re probably used to seeing them in, they do have a geometry, and in that shape the gene-coding reigons are preferentially oriented toward the outside of the chromosome territory.
While this favourable geometry is encouraged by various dna-binding molecules, the amazing thing is that the sequence of nucleotides is important. It’s hard for me to come up with any appropriate analogy in human terms because we don’t do things this way – for example, while the very first portions of a computer’s hard drive are important, for the most part the sequence of bits on a hard drive are irrelevant to its function.
The way this mingles message and structure is a common motif in living things, almost everything does double or triple duty- nucleotides code for proteins and provide scaffolding to place the appropriate nucleotides in a transcription-friendly orientation, RNA acts as messenger, enzyme and censor.
It may just be an artifact of my interpretative framework, but it seems clear to me that the human mind does not work towards design solutions like this. We tend to think “house”, and then think of what we can make it out of. Even in a “materials first” case, we tend to take into account a certain small number of the properties of the material in question and find a novel utilisation for those properties.
Furthermore, while I don’t personally know any non-human intelligent designers, this property of our design approach seems to be close to the heart of what we call intelligence, for it is this ability to only consider specific properties and to design from a sort of “top down” perspective that gives us the ability to do and make things that seem to deviate from the capacity of the living world – from setting our bones when they break to designing next year’s automobile.