Bad Science Reporting: DNA, The Times

by danhon

TINY implantable computers that monitor your cells for diseases such as cancer
and then repair them are now a step closer to reality, reveal Harvard University scientists.

They report in Nature Biotechnology how they are on track to implant genetic plans into our bodies that would tell our cells to construct the DNA biocomputers. These would monitor cellular information and edit genes if they go wrong. DNA holds data digitally, like a silicon chip.

Yaakov Benenson, one of the developers, says: “Give your body a genetic blueprint of the machine and your own biology will do the rest.” This week the team revealed how it has proved that biocomputers can work in human kidney cells in lab cultures.

in Breakthroughs, tips and trends – The Times, 26 May 2007

I just can’t. I mean, really: “DNA holds data digitally, like a silicon chip“.

Look, here’s an incomprehensible article in Wikipedia on the genetic code (that coincidentally also perfectly illustrates the expert problem), and here’s a Human Genome Project factsheet on DNA.

DNA doesn’t store data digitally “like a computer”. They’re both quite different. Storing data digitally means (presumably, in the writer’s mind) that the data is stored in some sort of code. But then again, the English language is a code for data, and so’s French. And, no matter how some people might not like it, txt spk.

The article could’ve read just as easily as follows:

They report in Nature Biotechnology how they are on track to implant genetic plans into our bodies that would tell our cells to construct the DNA biocomputers. These would monitor cellular information and edit genes if they go wrong.

Yaakov Benenson, one of the developers, says: “Give your body a genetic blueprint of the machine and your own biology will do the rest.” This week the team revealed how it has proved that biocomputers can work in human kidney cells in lab cultures.

Do you see what I did there? I just removed the sentence. Much less confusing and less likely to lead people to believe that DNA is just like a microchip computer.