DNA – the famous double-helix, the instruction booklet for our cells – is chock-full of information. More information than all the world’s devices store.
That’s according to scientist Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California. He recently concluded, after four years of research, that the DNA in a single human being stores more information than all our technology, combined. By technology, he means cell phones, cameras, supercomputers – you name it. Here’s Dr. Hilbert:
Your DNA is basically information storage, correct? Your DNA has an alphabet – an alphabet with 4 letters – and this alphabet stores information. If I count how much information the human DNA stores – you have about 60 trillion cells, and each one has a DNA molecule – this information that one adult human stores is 300 times bigger than the information that humankind can store in all of our technological devices.
The amount we humans can store in our technological devices, by the way, is 295 exabytes worth of information (that’s a number with 20 zeroes). Even so, DNA is more complex. Maybe that’s why DNA is shrouded in so much mystery – it’s the world’s most innovative computer chip. So innovative that we haven’t quite grocked it, yet.
There is hope. A video I found in infosthetics.com’s archives from Drew Berry of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research helped me understand DNA a little better, or at least helped me visualize it a little more accurately.
The video, which uses cutting-edge animation techniques to get the job done, shows DNA undergoing coiling, replication, transcription and translation. (Those fancy words just refer to the way the “data” in DNA manages to squeeze itself inside each one of our cells.)
It’s incredible to think that this stuff is happening inside our bodies, every nanosecond of every day. Feast your eyes, bathe your cells in knowledge.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.