Intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code?

While this was posted on April 1st it does not seem to be a prank. The journal publication cited by the article does exist, “The “Wow! signal” of the terrestrial genetic code.” Vladimir I. shCherbak, Maxim A. Makukov, The “Wow! signal” of the terrestrial genetic code, Icarus, Available online 6 March 2013, ISSN 0019-1035.

Is An Alien Message Embedded In Our Genetic Code?

Vladimir I. shCherbak of al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Kazakhstan, and Maxim A. Makukov of the Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute, hypothesize that an intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code would be a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution. They call it “biological SETI.” What’s more, they argue that the scheme has much greater longevity and chance of detecting E.T. than a transient extraterrestrial radio transmission.

Writing in the journal Icarus, they assert: “Once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known. Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature. Once the genome is appropriately rewritten the new code with a signature will stay frozen in the cell and its progeny, which might then be delivered through space and time.”

To pass the designer label test, any patterns in the genetic code must be highly statistically significant and possess intelligent-like features that are inconsistent with any natural know process, say the authors.

They go on to argue that their detailed analysis that the human genome (map here) displays a thorough precision-type orderliness in the mapping between DNA’s nucleotides and amino acids. “Simple arrangements of the code reveal an ensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of symbolic language.” They say this includes the use of decimal notation, logical transformations, and the use of the abstract symbol of zero. “Accurate and systematic, these underlying patterns appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing,” they assert.

Late in the article the author very rightly criticizes the findings of the researchers likening these intelligent panspermia theories to a sort of UFO version of intelligent design. Any form of ID triggers leads to an infinite regression of designers (“who designed the designers?”). Effectively this just moves the goal post for understanding the origins of biological life.

That sort of critique fails to go after the core flaw of the methodology. Examples such as The Bible Code have shown that seeking patterns even in a random data set can produce results that appear to be deliberate messages. However, it has been shown that such messages are a product of the design of the methodology more than anything else.

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment, let’s suppose there is some irrefutable patterning to how the genetic code is organized. That does not preclude the possibility that there are natural forces leading to some necessary structure of these codes. One is taught very early in biology classes that function follows form. Most likely there are natural forces at work that would shape the form of the genetic code to perform it’s intended function and be just good enough for continued propagation.

Anyone versed in the mathematical techniques employed or in the field of genomics would be highly valued in terms of further insight to this story.

Final published version of “The “Wow! signal” of the terrestrial genetic code” is behind a pay wall but the author’s accepted version is here (free full text).

The Bible Code Entry on The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Hidden Messages and The Bible Code

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  6 comments for “Intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code?

  1. spookyparadigm
    April 7, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    Based on the comments, the Discovery Channel/website/whatever, doesn’t seem to care if it is in the science business with its topics. Creationist (of both strict church sense as well as the “I’m just asking questions” populist philosopher in their own mind style) clicks pay ad bills just as much as anyone else’s.

  2. April 7, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    This premise is prima facie false: “Though smaller in capacity, but stronger in noise immunity is the genetic code. The code is a flexible mapping between codons and amino acids, and this flexibility allows modifying the code artificially. But once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known.” Unless a sequence provides a regulatory role or codes an important protein, what other mechanism could prevent random mutations from accumulating?

  3. scott auden
    April 7, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    It will be telling (re: any creationist agenda) to see if they focus on H. Sapiens. The interesting notion of embeddding a seti-type signal in primordial genetic code as a way of preserving that signal to be found by future intelligent life supposes that code would be implanted many millions of years before that intelligent species evolved, and the intelligence “sending” the signal would have no way of knowing what species would eventually emerge as sentient. If there’s a message encoded from the earliest start of life, that message should be present in any surviving descendant species. There’s no reason to focus on the human genome, or even primates (unless one is actually attempting to demonstrate the human animal in particular was engineered.) If someone was sending us a message, it ought to be in drosophilia, octopods… (hell, for that matter, why not encode your message in a benign virus?

  4. Leper
    April 8, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    If you were encoding information in genetic code you could use some sort of Error correcting code to detect corruption from mutations. However, without a correction mechanism to reverse the effects of mutations, any stored information will eventually be lost over time.

    It seems like a really stupid way to communicate, as any alien species advanced enough to “tweak” genomes to store information would likely understand how mutation and evolution function. The idea is plausible over a shorter number of generations, but fails in the long run.

  5. Julian
    April 8, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    You should read the original publication. Discovery News had somewhat distorted the research. Those guys do not deal with genomes at all (let alone the human genome), they deal with the genetic code which is universal for all life on Earth. Of course, that alone does not say anything in favor of the validity of their results, but I do not see any problems with the premise itself.

  6. Tyler Kokjohn
    April 8, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    A message in our genome that cannot be accounted for by evolution? To ferret out such a thing it is not sufficient to examine only the human genome. I suggest they actually test their hypothesis by looking at other primates and then proceed to species less closely related to humans. Humans have not been around all that long in terms of evolutionary time. However, we share conserved genetic relationships with other living and extinct organisms, which suggests a broader search of genomes will reveal that mathematical and semantic message can be traced back through evolution as well.

    Unlike the Bible Code promoters, these scientists have abundantly diverse source materials to examine and compare. It will be interesting to see how well their genome code hypothesis holds up if tested rigorously against the broader context of known evolutionary relationships.

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