DNA: Hardware and software of life

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    In this introductory paper I will first go back in history and endeavor to explain in simple terms, with the support of optical diffraction experiments, just how X-ray fiber diffraction pictures lead Watson and Crick to discover the DNA double helix. Second I will present the geometrical and chemical structures of the molecule, the “hardware of life”, emphasizing in some detail the nature of the hydrogen bonding in the Watson–Crick (WC) base pairs A–T, G–C formed by the natural bases of the genetic alphabet. I will then discuss a class of twelve artificial analogues to these bases, some of which have been successfully synthesized by organic chemists by rearranging the pattern of hydrogen bonds of the base pairs. Adopting the perspective of theoretical computer science and error-coding theory, I will finally present DNA as the “software of life”, by discussing Mac Dónaill’s recent interpretation of the optimality of the natural genetic cipher as compared to other possible alphabets selected from the artificial analogues.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)781-793
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Computational Electronics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


    • Artificial basepairs
    • DNA
    • Error-coding theory
    • Genetic alphabet
    • Hydrogen bonding
    • Optical simulations
    • X-ray diffraction


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