For some time now Upright Biped has been arguing that information cannot be reduced to chemistry, and last year he started his own website to further his key idea that when information is translated by cellular machinery, it organizes inanimate matter (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc) into all the living things on earth. See biosemiosis.org Essentially, UB says all of life is an artifact created by the manipulation of chemicals according to the information embedded in the cell.
Now comes the March 2016 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society with a special issue on DNA as Information. The table of contents is here.
We would like to draw special attention to the article What is Information by Marcello Barbieri. The abstract (but for the English spellings) could have been written by UB:
Molecular biology is based on two great discoveries: the first is that genes carry hereditary information in the form of linear sequences of nucleotides; the second is that in protein synthesis a sequence of nucleotides is translated into a sequence of amino acids, a process that amounts to a transfer of information from genes to proteins. These discoveries have shown that theinformation of genes and proteins is the specific linear order of their sequences. This is a clear definition of information and there is no doubt that it reflects an experimental reality. What is not clear, however, is the ontological status of information, and the result is that today we have two conflicting paradigms in biology. One is the ‘chemical paradigm’, the idea that ‘life is chemistry’, or, more precisely, that ‘life is an extremely complex form of chemistry’. The other is the ‘information paradigm’, the view that chemistry is not enough, that ‘life is chemistry plus information’. This implies that there is an ontological difference between information and chemistry, a difference which is often expressed by saying that information-based processes like heredity and natural selection simply do not exist in the world of chemistry. Against this conclusion, the supporters of the chemical paradigm have argued that the concept of information is only a linguistic metaphor, a word that summarizes the result of countless underlying chemical reactions. The supporters of the information paradigm insist that information is a real and fundamental component of the living world, but have not been able toprove this point. As a result, the chemical view has not been abandoned and the two paradigms both coexist today. Here, it is shown that a solution to the ontological problem of information does exist. It comes from the idea that life is artefact-making, that genes and proteins are molecular artefacts manufactured by molecular machines and that artefacts necessarily require sequences and coding rules in addition to the quantities of physics and chemistry. More precisely, it is shown that the production of artefacts requires new observables that are referred to as nominable entities because they can be described only by naming their components in their natural order. From an ontological point of view, in conclusion, information is a nominable entity, a fundamental but not-computable observable.
And then there is The Meaning of Biological Information by Eugene Koonin. Abstract:
Biological information encoded in genomes is fundamentally different from and effectively orthogonal to Shannon entropy. The biologically relevant concept of information has to do with ‘meaning’, i.e. encoding various biological functions with various degree of evolutionary conservation. Apart from direct experimentation, the meaning, or biological information content, can be extracted and quantified from alignments of homologous nucleotide or amino acid sequences but generally not from a single sequence, using appropriately modified information theoretical formulae. For short, information encoded in genomes is defined vertically but not horizontally. Informally but substantially, biological information density seems to be equivalent to ‘meaning’ of genomic sequences that spans the entire range from sharply defined, universal meaning to effective meaninglessness. Large fractions of genomes, up to 90% in some plants, belong within the domain of fuzzy meaning. The sequences with fuzzy meaning can be recruited for various functions, with the meaning subsequently fixed, and also could perform generic functional roles that do not require sequence conservation. Biological meaning is continuously transferred between the genomes of selfish elements and hosts in the process of their coevolution. Thus, in order to adequately describe genome function and evolution, the concepts of information theory have to be adapted to incorporate the notion of meaning that is central to biology.