In “To Model the Simplest Microbe in the World, You Need 128 Computers”
(The Atlantic, Jul 23 2012), seinor editor Alexis Madrigal tells us,
“Right now, running a simulation for a single cell to divide only one time takes around 10 hours and generates half a gigabyte of data,” lead scientist Covert told the New York Times. “I find this fact completely fascinating, because I don’t know that anyone has ever asked how much data a living thing truly holds.”
One cell. One division. Half a gig of data. Now figure that millions of bacteria could fit on the head of a pin and that many of them are an order of magnitude more complex than M. genitalium. Or ponder the idea that the human body is made up of 10 trillion (big, complex) human cells, plus about 90 or 100 trillion bacterial cells. That’s about 100,000,000,000,000 cells in total. That’d take a lot of computers to model, eh? If it were possible, that is.
It’s not that I think this level of biological complexity makes it impervious to human engineering. Clearly, that’s not the case. But, it does seem that it is very difficult to manipulate or optimize living systems without causing major, unintended consequences. We can only simulate one of the simplest cells in the world through years of research, but we change trillions of trillions of cells with ease.
No wonder Craig Venter scandalized Richard Dawkins by doubting common descent.
Who knows? What if it turns out that genomes are actually changed by horizontal gene transfer in thousands of different ways?