Background: Formal description of a cell's genetic information should provide the number of DNA molecules in that cell and their complete nucleotide sequences. We pose the formal problem: can the genome sequence forming the genotype of a given living cell be known with absolute certainty so that the cell's behaviour (phenotype) can be correlated to that genetic information? To answer this question, we propose a series of thought experiments. Results: We show that the genome sequence of any actual living cell cannot physically be known with absolute certainty, independently of the method used. There is an associated uncertainty, in terms of base pairs, equal to or greater than μs (where μ is the mutation rate of the cell type and s is the cell's genome size). Conclusion: This finding establishes an "uncertainty principle" in genetics for the first time, and its analogy with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics is discussed. The genetic information that makes living cells work is thus better represented by a probabilistic model rather than as a completely defined object. © 2005 Strippoli et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Uncertainty principle of genetic information in a living cell

Strippoli P.;Canaider S.;Noferini F.;D'Addabbo P.;Vitale L.;Facchin F.;Lenzi L.;Casadei R.;Carinci P.;Zannotti M.;Frabetti F.
2005

Abstract

Background: Formal description of a cell's genetic information should provide the number of DNA molecules in that cell and their complete nucleotide sequences. We pose the formal problem: can the genome sequence forming the genotype of a given living cell be known with absolute certainty so that the cell's behaviour (phenotype) can be correlated to that genetic information? To answer this question, we propose a series of thought experiments. Results: We show that the genome sequence of any actual living cell cannot physically be known with absolute certainty, independently of the method used. There is an associated uncertainty, in terms of base pairs, equal to or greater than μs (where μ is the mutation rate of the cell type and s is the cell's genome size). Conclusion: This finding establishes an "uncertainty principle" in genetics for the first time, and its analogy with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics is discussed. The genetic information that makes living cells work is thus better represented by a probabilistic model rather than as a completely defined object. © 2005 Strippoli et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
THEORETICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICAL MODELLING
Strippoli P.; Canaider S.; Noferini F.; D'Addabbo P.; Vitale L.; Facchin F.; Lenzi L.; Casadei R.; Carinci P.; Zannotti M.; Frabetti F.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11585/698102
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