A Computer Scientists foyer into Cellular Biology


As a computer scientist, I have always listened in amazement at the seemingly magic things that biologists have told me and thought up a million questions.  Most prevalent in this, is how do DNA, RNA and cells actually work? Where do they come from? Why do we talk about having X chromosomes and yet sometimes refer to DNA as a big long string of AGCT. These are the things that torment me. That make me feel like a small child who has walked into the crazy world of wall street. Information flying everywhere and people yelling incoherent sentences that make me stare in amazement. All the while wondering 'how do these people know what's going on, where is the logic, where does it begin?'.


Well folks, that is my grand question.

For me personally, I initially thought that I would like to learn a bit about biology as the computational/data analysis problems seem like something that could be well defined for a piece of intelligent software to assist with. It is so apparent to me now that one of our biggest problems is a miscommunication. Like the British and our American friends we can communicate well, but so much fine, important, crucial detail is lost in the colloquialism. It is these little details which really define and create understanding of the problems. This is why I want to undergo a trip to the other side. Study as much biology as I can and then re-examine the problems.

I'm ambitious but not foolish (I would say that wouldn't I?), so I have no plans to gain an overall in-depth knowledge of biology. I have set myself the first task (which as a complete novice I have/had no idea quite the enormous challenge I had brought down upon myself) to quite simply have an understanding of DNA.

Having spent a few weeks and a lot of hours in the evenings on this I have realised I have essentially asked the question 'how does RAM work?'. Any computer scientist will look at this question and say that it is too vague and that more knowledge is required to understand what you are asking. And so I have also had to explore the questions of:

  • What happens within a cell
    • What are organelles
    • What causes energy to be produced
    • What is ATP?
    • What is mitochondria?
  • What is RNA
    • What is mRNA?
    • What is tRNA?
    • What is rRNA?
  • How does stringy goo turn into instruction sets?
    • What's a diploid?
    • What's a hexaploid?
  • How can 4 letters, AGCT, code up every living plant or animal?

The list has really become endless but those are a quick example of why this is turning into a monumental task I have set myself...

I fully plan on writing about these questions here, as for now I've had my first run though a lot of this and will need to do so several more times before I'm confident to talk about this as I am for example Emacs or Rubiks cubes.

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