Many were disappointed when the human genome turned out to have only 20,000 ‘genes’. I think that there was a feeling that the number of genes was a measure of the sophistication of an organism. Unlike some, I view humans as very sophisticated animals.

If we come upon an alien computer running alien software we should not measure the sophistication by the number of op codes that computer knows how to obey, but perhaps by the number of instructions in the program.

I propose that a gene, as conventionally defined as defining some protein, is like an op code that a computer can perform. The sophistication arises in the expression of when the opcode is performed. Similarly the introns are though to express the circumstances where a cell produces some protein. Such rules seem to me to provide ample opportunity for arbitrary sophistication.

This analogy is inappropriate for the sorts of biology that Margulis & Sagan celebrate. In that biology single cells accomplish sophisticated chemistry by dint of some Rube Goldberg protein contraptions that any human mechanical engineer applauds. Conditional protein production plays a much smaller role there. The bulk of such invention was done by 500,000,000 years ago and the op code analogy is more appropriate for multicellular organisms.