Thursday, September 9, 2010

What's in a Code?

In earlier days, before the onset of social networking and ubiquitous electronic gadgetry, many of today’s mature adults were entertained by toy coding devices offered by radio adventure programs or commercial food marketers. These devices enabled us to send intelligent messages using mysterious signals which needed translation in order to “decode” the message. Someone had to devise the meaningful message, the code signals to carry it, and the means to translate the code. The supplier of the devices sometimes included a coded message consisting of a set of instructions we were encouraged to follow.

Today’s young people, and perhaps many adults, do not grasp the impact of “breaking the genetic code” which occurred during the early years of the 1960s. The cell, the basic functional unit of all living things, contains the instructions and the means for the manufacturing the thousands of different proteins which make up those living things. The human body is composed of 50,000 to 100,000 proteins. The genetic code directs the synthesis (manufacture) of these proteins by providing the instructions for protein synthesis. In the first few years of the 1960s, molecular biologists broke the “code of life.” That is, they figured out how protein synthesis occurs.

In the building of a skyscraper or even the building of a house, there are thousands of different substances, mostly chemical mixtures and compounds, integrated in a prescribed and orderly manner into the whole structure. Likewise, the bodies of animals, including humans, are composed of multiple substances, mostly organic compounds, which must be manufactured and organized into a functional whole.

It is a fairly simple matter to write a description of such a process. A simple description, however, belies the intricacy and wonder of what actually happens when living things progress from a single cell into a complex, integrated, functional unit containing trillions of cells.

What’s in a code? The blueprint for a skyscraper or a home contains many symbols, instructional shorthand which means little or nothing to the casual onlooker. The blueprint codes were produced by an intelligent agent--the designer. Taken by themselves, the code symbols are meaningless. In the hands of the builder, however, the information contained is interpreted and its instructions followed to produce the desired final product.

We honor the designer of a beautiful, functional home. We marvel at how the coded blueprints were read and correctly executed by the builder and we delight in the final product. How much more exciting is the assembly of a functional living being which has received the Creator’s breath of life? Enabling this miracle is the genetic code which directs the detailed assembly of every living thing.