Letters to the Editor

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BRACKETOLOGY: March Madness and DNA

Letter by Ted J. Kilcup, Gig Harbor on April 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm with No Comments »
April 3, 2014 5:28 pm

Warren Buffett is backing the $1 billion award for anyone who can pick a perfect March Madness bracket. The odds of getting a perfect bracket are approximately 1 out of 9 with 18 zeros to the right (9 x 10^18th). If every one of the 7 billion people on Earth filled out a bracket, the odds of anyone winning would be .0000000008 percent. To have a 1 percent chance you need to have 90,000,000,000,000,000 entries. It’s easy to see why  Buffett figured this was a safe bet.

Living systems are extremely complicated. Any kind of living organism will have many proteins. Proteins are made of chains of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can occupy a given position in the chain. A small protein chain might be 150 positions long. It has been calculated that the odds of getting a small single functional protein by chance are 1 in 10^164th. For a comparison, there are 10^80th elementary particles in the universe, and there has been 10^16th seconds since the big bang 13.7 billion years ago.

The infinitesimal likelihood of getting life through a chance process caused Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick to suggest life was seeded here from elsewhere. However that doesn’t solve the problem; it just moves it.

Everybody’s tournament brackets are shredded at this point. But it should be of some consolation that we are here at all. Life’s existence suggests that just maybe the dice were loaded from the start.

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