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For the past four billion years or so the only way for life on Earth to produce a sequence of dna—a gene—was by copying a sequence it already had to hand. Sometimes the gene would be damaged or scrambled, the copying imperfect or undertaken repeatedly.

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to me, it sounds like "IF the copying (is) imperfect or undertaken repeatedly, sometimes the gene would be damaged or scrambled." It is conditional, why there is no "if" in the sentence. Is it a grammar rule?

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    "Sometimes the gene would be damaged or scrambled; [sometimes] the copying [would be] imperfect; or [sometimes the copying would be] undertaken repeatedly." – TrevorD Apr 8 at 14:52
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    I read it as three ways in which the data sequence of the 'copied' gene might be wrong: – Philip Wood Apr 8 at 14:53
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I read it as three ways in which the data sequence of the 'copy' might be wrong: (1) original gene wrong (2) bad copying (3) copied too many times. But I think the text you are quoting isn't clear: "Sometimes the gene would be damaged or scrambled" might be referring to the new gene, or (as I think) to the original gene, in which case no "if" is required..

  • In the circumstances, it would seem to be irrelevant whether the damaged/scrambled gene were the source gene or the new gene: the result would still be a damaged new gene - or perhaps no new gene at all. – TrevorD Apr 8 at 15:07
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I read it as two ways in which the DNA sequence of the copy might be wrong:

  • it could be damaged and/or scrambled,

and two mechanisms by which it could be damaged and/or scrambled:

  • the copying could be imperfect, or
  • the copying could be undertaken repeatedly.

I’m wondering whether the comma after “scrambled” should be a semicolon or a dash.

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