Richard Dawkins , The Blind Watchmaker, 1986.
Chapter 5 – The power and the archives
It is raining DNA outside. On the bank of the Oxford canal at the bottom of my garden is a large willow tree, and it is pumping downy seeds into the air. … The whole performance, cotton wool, catkins, tree and all, is in aid of one thing and one thing only, the spreading of DNA around the countryside. Not just any DNA, but DNA whose coded characters spell out specific instructions for building willow trees that will shed a new generation of downy seeds. Those fluffy specks are, literally, spreading instructions for making themselves. They are there because their ancestors succeeded in doing the same. It is raining instructions out there; it’s raining programs; it’s raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn’t be any plainer if it were raining floppy discs.
If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.
The particular polymers used by living cells are called polynucleotides. There are two main families of polynucleotides in living cells, called DNA and RNA for short. Both are chains of small molecules called nucleotides. Both DNA and RNA are heterogeneous chains, with four different kinds of nucleotides. This, of course, is where the opportunity for information storage lies. Instead of just the two states 1 and 0, the information technology of living cells uses four states, which we may conventionally represent as A, T, C and G. There is very little difference, in principle, between a two-state binary information technology like ours, and a four-state information technology like that of the living cell.