Question of the Week

Mon, 7th Apr 2014

Part of the shows Man v Machine and Power to your Elbow: Better Batteries


Anon asked:

Why does my computer need gigabytes of data just to run and operating system, but my DNA runs a whole body?


Hannah - Does a computer need more data storage than human DNA? Surely, our processing power is greater. To get to grips with the answer, Dr. Nick Goldman from the Wellcome Trust Genome campus in Cambridge.

Nick - The genome makes a machine which is brilliant at learning and then all your rest of your life experiences distilled into your brain or how you do all the things you actually do. So partly, the reason why a genome could be small compared to the amazing complexity of the final product, which letís say is an adult, is because DNA and the genome is a brilliantly clever way of storing the instructions to make a fantastic machine. The baby can't do very much, but it has an unbelievable capacity to learn. But that's not in your genome. Although the experiences you have are not in the genome, the system for storing them and making sense of them, itís in the brain. The brain is a machine and the blueprint for that machine is the genome.

Hannah - Clever us with our human genome coding for our clever brains which contain a whopping 100 billion nerve cells with new connections forming between these nerve cells as we learn new things. Okay, so with that one figured out, what exactly is a computerís operating system? What does this do and how does it compare to our genome?Robothead

Nick - The average computer doesnít contain in it the instructions for making a computer. They don't ship you a blueprint for the machine. They give you a basic set of software, an operating system that tells it how to do the most fundamental task. So, itís not the blueprint of the body which would be the genome analogy. Itís instructions of how to do certain tasks, not how to make the machine.

Hannah - Thanks, Nick and on Facebook, (Peka Olinker) and (Tony Spencer) agree, also adding that the DNA code has had about 3.6 billion years to evolve to efficiently store information for the blueprint of life. The first type of processing unit or brain was thought to have evolved around 400 million years ago in arthropods. And in fact, Dr. Nick Goldman has recently used genetic code of DNA as a storage method for data. It was super efficient, much more so than the current binary system used for storing data on computers.


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