One of the mysteries about our bodies is how they manage to change and yet remain the same. DNA is routinely called the blueprint of life, yet no other blueprint actually builds the house or skyscraper it models. Once DNA builds a body, the body grows and disintegrates at the same time. This is apparent from the skin and stomach lining, which rapidly form new cells as old ones die. But every cell has a given lifespan and willingly dies, so to speak, when it's time is up.
How did the body develop this ability to be born and die at the same time, to balance creation and destruction? If we dive to the molecular level, the mystery only deepens. Cells need food, air, and water, and the molecules of each are in constant transport, passing through the cell wall and out again. In addition, the messages that the brain sends to every cell in the body course through the bloodstream with precise messaging that doesn't get confused--in effect, the bloodstream is an information superhighway in which there are no traffic accidents even though the cars have no drivers.
To date, the best way to understand what's going on is through genetics, and now the whole field of genetics has entered the information age. As summarized in a recent TED talk by biologist Dean Gibson provocatively titled "How to Build Synthetic DNA and Send It Across the Internet " there are now machines that biologically print DNA once they are fed instructions in the form of data easily transmitted on the Web. This conversion of information into actual DNA builds upon previous technology that enables bits of stored genetic material (the basic four-letter alphabet of ACGT) to be combined in any conceivable way.
Gibson's lab has pioneered sending information and turning it into genetic material, which in 2013 allowed them to take the code for an alarming new strain of bird flu in China and in a matter of hours turn it into a viable vaccine to fight the disease, a process that normally takes up to six months. The promise of similar applications is set to revolutionize how new drugs are made.