What is Life?

Where did it come from?

Possible objection no 1

Possible objection no 1

Genetic information is not semiotic.

This I feel is an argument about definitions. While there may well be a dictionary definition that in some way excludes biological information from being called semiotic, the definition I am applying in this context is the requirement of information to be encoded and subsequently decoded by fixed conventions. Without these conventions the string of symbols in question would simply be a pattern that would hold some statistical or Shannon information but not carry any meaning or accurate translatable function.

While origin of life researchers seem to avoid the consideration of semiosis in biological systems, I am certainly not alone in drawing the conclusion that biological information is semiotic.

Please take a look at the superb logic contained in the following paper by Marcello Barbieri.


The abstract makes the content of the paper very clear that its intention is to demonstrate that despite the previous reluctance of the scientific community to categorize a cell as a semiotic system, there are demonstrable reasons to acknowledge the semiotic nature of biological information. In fact the paper points out that semiosis is an absolute “
precondition for the origin of life

The article points out that while there is a chemical affinity between the nucleotide bases of DNA and the Subsequent bases of the  Messenger RNA  (mRNA) string that is produced by the transcription process, there is no chemical affinity at all between the bases of the mRNA and the string of amino acids that make up a protein. The translation process that completes this next step takes place inside the ribosome and is facilitated by adaptor molecules known as a transfer RNA’s, (tRNA) one end of which corresponds to the RNA anticodon the other end carries the appropriate amino acid to make up the correctly sequenced protein chain.

(For a simple explanation of this translation process see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41_Ne5mS2ls )

Because there is no automatic chemical affinity between these two molecules in the process but is carried out by a RNA based molecular machine, the precise construction of which is encoded in DNA, this whole process is code driven, not chemistry driven.

The article points out that it is these transfer RNA’s that actually carry out the translation of RNA molecules into the appropriate amino acid chain by a pre-ordained set of protocols encoded into the DNA molecule. So this is precisely the process that defines a semiotic system. 

While it has to be pointed out that the author of this article in no way draws the same conclusion about the origin of life that my own article does, it makes some very similar points along the way, for example:-

The idea that the cell is a semiotic system, in short, raises fundamental questions about the nature of life and invites us to take a new look at the problem of its origin”.


Signs, meanings and conventions, however, do not come into existence of their own. There is always an “agent” that produces them, and that agent can be referred to as a codemaker because it is always an act of coding that gives origin to semiosis”.

The article points out that semiosis in a eukaryotic cell goes far deeper than just the coding used to translate genes into proteins. In fact the article goes on to list an additional 11 separate semiotic codes the cell uses to function.

(1)   The transcription codes
(2)   The gene splicing code
(3)   The translation pausing code
(4)   The DNA structure code
(5)   The chromatin code
(6)   The translation framing code
(7)   The modulation code
(8)   The genome segmentation code
(9)   The adhesive Code
(10) The sugar Code
(11) The histone Code

The article goes on to suggest they may well prove to be many more additional codes built into the cell.

Without question, as an information processing system the eukaryotic cell is a semiotic system without equal !