Man v Machine

Why does my PC need more data storage than my DNA? Surely our processing power is greater? We crunch into the data to find out!
07 April 2014
Presented by Hannah Critchlow


Paul herrington and Mark Hunt being robotheads at Latitude Festival.


Why does my PC need more data storage than my DNA? Surely human processing power is greater than a computers? We crunch into the data to find out!

In this episode

Paul herrington and Mark Hunt being robotheads at Latitude Festival.

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 let's 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, it's 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 computer's operating system? What does this do and how does it compare to our genome?

Nick - The average computer doesn't 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, it's not the blueprint of the body which would be the genome analogy. It's 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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